Derby County travelled to Griffin Park to face Brentford in the EFL Championship with neither side matching the high expectations that have been placed on them in pre-season. With both sides expected to challenge at the top end of the table, neither side as of yet, have been particularly convincing.
Brentford managed to emerge victorious from this match securing a 3-0 victory over a Derby side that never really troubled them. This tactical analysis will examine how Brentford secured their victory.
Derby named an unchanged side from their last Championship encounter – a 1-1 draw at home to West Brom. Brentford meanwhile made three changes with Luka Racic, Ethan Pinnock and Emiliano Marcondes all dropping out of the side with Julian Jeanvier, Said Benrahma and Bryan Mbeumo replacing them.
Key to Brentford’s success in this match was their transitions, in which they showed immediate reactions in both offensive and defensive transitions. As soon as they lost possession they looked to counter-press and force Derby to play longer passes to their strikers. With Brentford deploying a back three they would have numerical superiority against Jack Marriott, therefore increasing the likelihood of them regaining possession.
In the above image we can see four Brentford players applying pressure around the ball in a defensive transition. The positioning of the players has enabled them to prevent passing options into the advanced midfielders. This caused Tom Huddlestone to dribble out of pressure as his options were extremely limited. On this occasion, he was able to escape the pressure before playing a long pass which was intercepted by Henrik Dalsgaard.
Brentford’s excellent transitions led to them taking the lead in this match. Again a Derby player attempted to dribble out of pressure, this time Tom Lawrence was the guilty party. He was tackled by Dalsgaard, who had stepped out of the back three to apply pressure.
As we can see from the above image Derby have four players sprinting forwards plus Lawrence who had just been tackled, all effectively out of the game when Brentford regained possession. They vacated the centre of the pitch, leaving a large gap in which Brentford could play through. Within one pass Ollie Watkins was in on goal with an opportunity to score.
Not only were Brentford impressive in defensive transitions, but their ability to transition into attack was also equally as effective. The front three of Benrahma, Watkins and Mbeumo constantly looked to attack the space using their speed. This caused issues for Derby as the defensive pair of Richard Keogh and Krystian Bielik don’t possess great pace to cover the space left behind their high defensive line.
Their second goal of the match almost immediately followed the first. From the kick-off, Derby looked to impose themselves as an attacking force having struggled to gain a foothold up to this point. Both fullbacks pushed forwards, leaving the two centre backs and Huddlestone as the deepest players. Huddlestone looked to play a pass wide into Lee Buchanan that was intercepted by Sergi Canos, who dribbled forward into the vacant space.
Mbeumo and Watkins both sprinted forwards in support, both looking to make runs behind the two Derby defenders. Neither of them were able to keep pace as Mbeumo reached Canos’ pass before squaring for the unmarked Watkins to tap into the net.
Brentford also displayed impressive pressing in this match, where they were often looking to force Derby into central areas when building from defence. This helped to make the play predictable for them, enabling them to regain possession often.
Crucial to forcing the play centrally was the pressing movements of the wide forwards. In the above image Mbeumo (circled in red) has orientated his body towards the centre of the pitch and has used his cover shadow to prevent a pass being played into left back Buchanan. Watkins (circled in purple) has positioned himself close to Keogh to prevent a switch of play. Brentford’s midfield have moved across to the ball near side, keeping themselves at staggered heights on the pitch. This has the added advantage of making it harder to play through as there will be more lines for Derby to penetrate.
The midfield have also kept themselves close enough to Huddlestone to be able to step forward and apply pressure on him should he receive the ball. This job often fell to Mathias Jensen who would move forward from his central midfield role to press.
Brentford were happy to allow their players to leave their position to apply pressure on the ball. Dalsgaard, in particular, was very aggressive in his approach to regain possession. Often he would step forward into midfield areas looking to steal the ball and create a counter-attacking opportunity. In the image above he has stepped forward into a centre midfield position to press Kieran Dowell, who has received the ball with his back to goal – a common pressing trigger for sides.
The compact shape of Brentford out of possession enabled them to press effectively as the spaces between them was small. The shorter spaces ensure that one player isn’t going to be passed around easily by the opponents.
Brentford were very compact both horizontally and vertically making it incredibly difficult for Derby to play through them. This is borne out by the fact Derby managed just five shots in the entire match and failed to have a single effort on target. While they had 50% of the possession they struggled to create many dangerous opportunities with Brentford able to keep them at bay. When Derby had secured possession Brentford dropped into their shape but still looked to apply pressure on the ball. The player closest to the ball closed down the opponent when the ball entered the Brentford half.
A key aspect of Brentford’s ability to build attacks was the positioning of the centre midfielders. Often both Jensen and Christian Nørgaard dropped deep to provide support to the three centre-halves. This enabled both wingbacks to push high up the field as the balance in defensive positions was provided by the centre midfielders. This in turn meant that Mbeumo and Benrahma were able to stay closer to Watkins, providing more options high up the pitch.
In the above image we can see that both centre midfielders have dropped closer to the centre backs. They have, however, staggered their positions slightly making it more difficult for the Derby midfield to cover them. They have both maintained as much distance vertically from the ball possessor, therefore creating more time and space in which the defenders are able to carry the ball forwards. Their positioning created a dilemma for the Derby midfielders. If they moved forward to press the centre backs the midfielders would be free, likewise if they held their position then the defenders were able to move forward to attract pressure. Most often the midfielders held their position leaving Marriott with no option to press the defenders as they could easily pass round him with their 3v1 numerical superiority.
In this image we can see Henry (highlighted in red) is able to position himself further forward. The three attackers (highlighted in purple) are also high up the pitch, stretching the Derby defence and midfield. This key aspect of the Brentford build-up caused Derby issues throughout the entirety of the match.
Unsurprisingly manager Thomas Frank described the Brentford first-half performance as the best 45 minutes since he has been in charge, which seems a fair analysis of this match. His players carried out his tactics perfectly to nullify Derby and control the match. Their ability to pressure Derby prevented them from creating many opportunities in the entire match.
The transitions of Brentford were fantastic and were a huge part of the reason they secured the 3-0 victory. The speed at which they counter pressed and counter attacked caused Derby problems throughout the entire match. Derby manager Philip Cocu lamented his sides’ poor transitions in his post-match press conference as part of the reason for their defeat. Both sides now enter the international break where they will hope to spend some time on the training pitch further implementing their styles on their respective teams.
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