Ben Gray: Brentford will have enough to stay up this season, but there are concerning signs for the future

On Saturday, Brentford held Chelsea to a 2-2 draw in a weird West London derby.

After falling behind, the Bees turned it around to lead with Mads Roerslev poking home an equaliser, before Yoane Wissa scored a spectacular scissor kick to fire his team in front.

However, having played so well for the first 25 minutes of the second period to secure this turnaround, Thomas Frank’s team then sat back and paid the price, with Axel Disasi bundling home a late equaliser.

Before kick off, a draw would have been viewed as a point gained but, the way it played out, most left disappointed and ruing what could’ve been.

After the match, Thomas Frank was asked about the half time grumblings, to which he replied: “I would like to personally speak to the ones who booed, because, is that support?

“We’re talking about Brentford against Chelsea, one of the biggest clubs in the world. We’re down 1-0. I know I can’t swear but what the…?”

Anecdotally, the boos were not your classic boos, they were not malicious nor fuelled by anger, more groans and a growing sense of here we go again, following a first half in which their team offered almost nothing.

This result did see Brentford climb up to 15th, six points clear of the relegation zone, probably needing three more wins from their remaining 11 fixtures to make sure of safety, as this would take their tally to 35.

Since 2015/16, only one side has gone down with 35 points or more - Burnley two seasons ago.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the whole club are feeling the pressure right now and, if they are to establish themselves as Premier League mainstays long-term, the current downward trajectory needs to be addressed.

London, England, 10th December 2021. A general view of the corner flag prior to the Premier League match at Brentford Community Stadium, London. Picture credit should read: Jacques Feeney / Sportimage Credit: Sportimage/Alamy Live News - Image ID: 2HA4RKN

This time a year ago, Brentford were pushing for European qualification, ultimately finished ninth, one point below Tottenham, two adrift Aston Villa and a mere three worse-off than Brighton.

Now however, as mentioned, the Bees are embroiled in the relegation battle, nervously looking over their shoulder, with their points-per-game ratio have dropped dramatically from 1.55 to a measly 0.96.

After last week’s heavy defeat at West Ham, captain Christian Nørgaard admitted that Everton’s points deductions and then reinstatement of four points was affecting the squad.

“It’s hard for me to comment on these deductions,” he said. “Somewhere, someone is sitting with a calculator and putting in points, taking away points... It’s people’s jobs, people’s lives they’re messing with”.

This was the first time anyone from the club had openly admitted they are indeed in a relegation battle.

Underlying numbers suggest Thomas Frank’s team are underperforming and are overdue a late season surge.

Brentford rank ninth for both expected goals and non-penalty xG (above Man United in both metrics) although they are fourth-bottom of the xG against table, above only Newcastle, Luton and Sheffield United.

During their first two campaigns in the Premier League, Frank’s side never lost when taking the lead but, already this season, have thrown away 28 points from winning positions, by far the most of any team.

Coming up in the second half of April, the Bees face Sheffield United (H), Luton (A) and then Everton (A) in succession, fixtures that will determined whether or not this time is staying up.

Assuming they do, a big summer will lie ahead if they’re to avoid being involved in another relegation dog-fight this time next year, especially given that the three teams coming up a likely to be stronger than their counterparts going in the opposite direction.

So why are Brentford struggling this season?

Well, the first, most obvious and probably most pertinent point is injuries.

First-choice full-backs Rico Henry and Aaron Hickey have made just five and nine Premier League appearances due to long-term injuries, most-recent featuring on 16 September and 28 October respectively.

Ethan Pinnock and Ben Mee who, realistically, could complete a first-choice back-four are also currently sidelined, with Mee’s injury-blighted campaign over after hobbling off at the London Stadium last Monday.

At the other end of the field, Bryan Mbeumo scored seven goals in 15 appearances prior to suffering an ankle injury at Brighton in early-December while, of course, Ivan Toney was banned until mid-January.

However, while all of this is true, it could certainly be argued that Brentford’s recruitment over the last two years is holding them back.

Mikkel Damsgaard (£17 million) and Kevin Schade (£22 million) have made little-to-no-impact since arriving, with the latter amongst those in the treatment room, not that this has made much tangible difference.

Keane Lewis-Potter (£20 million) would also have been on this list, but has looked much better in recent weeks, his most-impressive appearance for the club coming as a make-shift wing-back at Tottenham in January.

Goalkeeper Mark Flekken has come in for much criticism and the numbers justify this, given that his post-shot expected goals figure is -7.5, the worst in the division, while Matt Turner of Nottingham Forest is the only keeper to have performed worse on a per 90 basis.

In layman’s terms, the Dutchman has let in 7.5 more goals than an average goalkeeper would’ve been expected to, based on the quality of shots faced.

Flekken has significantly improved in recent matches in fairness, most-notably making 21 saves across two meetings with Manchester City, but was always going to struggle to fill the void vacated by David Raya.

This brings us onto the elephant in the room which is the fact that star striker Ivan Toney, who has just one year remaining on his contract and will leave in the summer; Frank has confirmed as much.

Replacing top-class players is never easy, but Brentford’s fabled recruitment department have shown little evidence in recent transfer windows that they are capable of identifying new players of equable quality.

It’s already been confirmed that Igor Thiago, who’s scored 26 goals for Club Brugge this season, will be joining for £30 million in June, so it remains to be seen if he can fill Toney’s gigantic proverbial shoes.

Of Saturday’s starters, 11 were key figures when the Bees first came into the Premier League, while Sergio Reguilón is only on loan, and this stagnation is causing a decline on the pitch which could see the West Londoners relegated sooner rather than later.

Ben Gray

Ben Gray

Arsenal fan – follow them over land and sea (and Leicester); sofa Celtic supporter; a bit of a football '"encyclopedia".