Two inform teams met at Griffin Park in the EFL Championship with Huddersfield Town taking all three points back to Yorkshire after a tight 1-0 win over Brentford. A Karlan Grant goal in the 62nd minute sealed the win.
Brentford came it the game high on confidence after three straight wins, the latest a 3-1 win at West London rivals, Queens Park Rangers. Danny Cowley’s Huddersfield Town side were unbeaten throughout October and have climbed out of the relegation zone with three wins and two draws.
This tactical analysis will look at the tactics employed Thomas Frank’s Brentford side and Cowley’s Huddersfield team in their attempt to sustain their teams rise up the Championship table.
Both managers elected to name unchanged line ups with Frank’s Brentford sticking to a 4-3-3 shape. David Raya remained in goal with a back four made up of Henrik Dalsgaard, Pontus Jansson, Julian Jeanvier and Rico Henry. The defensively-minded Christian Nørgaard provided cover for Josh Dasilva and Kamohelo Mokotjo in the midfield three. Brentford’s leading goal scorer, Ollie Watkins, was supported by the talented Said Benrahma and record signing Bryan Mbeumo.
Cowley stuck with a 4-2-3-1 system that has provided the platform for an upturn in the club’s results and position. Frazier Campbell led the attack with support from Elias Kachunga, Grant and Lewis O’Brien in the Number 10 role. Two holding midfielders were deployed in Jonathan Hogg and Juninho Bacuna. Across the back four were left-back Jaden Brown, centre-halves Christopher Schindler and Tommy Elphick. A Premiership winner with Leicester City, Danny Simpson slotted in at right-back. Kamil Grabara wore the Number 1 shirt.
Huddersfield’s defensive improvement
Huddersfield have collected 12 points in eight games under Cowley before this clash and moved from the bottom of the Championship up to 20th place. Confidence around the John Smith’s Stadium has grown since the introduction of the Cowley brothers, Danny and Nicky, who came to replace Jan Siewert after his ill-fated seven-month stay at The Terriers.
Since taking over in early September, the duo has placed a great deal of emphasis on the training ground on instilling the basics required at Championship level as well as improving the defensive shape and mentality. Huddersfield Town captain Schindler has stated the impact of the pair to the media and the hard work on the training ground is starting to be rewarded. Basics of defending principles have been drilled in and Huddersfield have been harder to break down, stronger dealing with crosses from wide areas and build-up play is kept to a minimum as this analysis will highlight.
In the example below, Huddersfield have allowed Brentford’s midfield to cross the halfway line. O’Brien, as the nearest player, puts pressure on the ball carrier. Behind him, the remaining midfielders are compact and preventing the forward pass into the forwards’ feet. Brentford in an effort to stretch the pitch, begin to play long diagonal passes to their wingers. Grant, who is positioned in the inside left channel, is able to make ground up to support his left-back as the ball is travelling in the air.
The Huddersfield defence shuffles across quickly to reduce the gaps between each defender and the Town midfield, sprit to get back in position to plug gaps and to pick up any second balls dropping into dangerous areas.
The shape of the away team forced Brentford to pass the ball to wider, less dangerous areas. During the opening exchanges, Cowley’s men looked to swamp the areas of the pitch where Brentford had possession, particularly within the home sides attacking half.
There is evidence of renewed team spirit and togetherness from Huddersfield’s performance. The example below shows the desire to implement the tactics and game plan devised by the Cowley brothers. Brentford retains possession in the own half in an effort to suck the away side on to them. The home side central midfielder, Christian NØrgaard changes the point of attack swiftly and confidently with a 40-yard pass to his teammate, Said Benrahma, wide on the left. The Huddersfield team became actively engaged and sense danger. Cowley’s players begin to work back in numbers to 1) defend the shaded area within the frame of the goal and 2) get numbers back in behind the ball to close gaps and provide valuable balance and support.
Within the 4-2-3-1 shape, Huddersfield Town were able to quickly set themselves into a more defensive 4-5-1 shape. During periods of the game, the away side aimed to set ‘traps’ to encourage Brentford to move the ball into safe areas and here we can see five midfielders behind the ball and close enough to press an isolated midfielder. Brentford’s number 18, Jansson plays the ball in NØrgaard who shows by his body shape, that he is happy to recycle the ball back to Jansson. Three Huddersfield players are quick to respond and press the ball and the area where Brentford are looking to build on the move. The furthest forward, Campbell is alert to any pass back towards the Brentford goal. O’Brien is close by to add pressure on the Brentford number six in case he is looking to turn. Hogg presses the area along with Grant.
Huddersfield Town were quick to regain their shape without the ball and in this game, the home side dictated large parts of possession however the visitors were very compact, resilient and hardworking. On the transfer of possession, Cowley’s team looked to play short for a couple of passes to allow the team to gain shape. From the pass map below, centre-halves, Schindler and Elphick circulated the ball between themselves 13 times with holding midfielder Hogg supporting the build-up from deeper areas. A number of unsuccessful passes were attempted directly into wide players Grant on the left and Kachunga on the right. Campbell playing in the lone striker role was also an option, but he was often given overhit passes to chase which the Brentford defence dealt with. However, his hard work led to Huddersfield deciding goal in the second half, which we will discuss later.
Credit must go to Cowley and his team for their impressive display defensively as they were put under pressure by a Brentford side who mixed their play up with short passing into the final third along with supplying crosses into the penalty box. At times, there were at least six Huddersfield outfield players within the frame of the gaol when crosses were delivered. The desire to defend the goal with courage and desire gave the Terriers a strong foothold in the game.
With interest from Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers, Huddersfield Town leading scorer has turned heads with his performances for his team who are gathering momentum in their quest to climb the EFL Championship table.
Much of his work against Brentford was defensive and based on his performance against the Bees’, he is not afraid to roll his sleeves up and help provide support to his defence, but he is also a threat when his side advance into attacking areas.
His stats of two shots on target with one goal is a fantastic return and Cowley will hope to keep his star player when the January transfer window opens.
The first of his attempts on goal in the 28th minute saw him take up an opportunist position in the inside left channel. His inverted start position saw him well placed to receive the ball from the tenacious O’Brien. On gathering the ball, Grant provided evidence of his talent as he drew in a Brentford defender in a 1 vs 1 situation and his shot left-foot shot was well saved by the home side goalkeeper, David Raya.
In the second half, as the game began to stretch, Campbell latched onto a long, diagonal pass deep in his team’s attacking third. There was enough cover within the home side’s defence to handle the upcoming threat, however, Grant, not only made up good ground to get in contact with his teammate but he also took up an excellent supporting angle. Campbell played a simple 10-yard pass where the winger drove into the box and fired past Raya from 16 yards. Huddersfield midfielder O’Brien offered support to Grant but there was only one thing on the mind of the former Charlton Athletic forward.
fiveGrant worked hard for his side without the ball and was often found deep in his defensive half along with areas higher up the pitch. His 36 touches show how little of the ball he received but the quality in his possession was evident.
Brentford draw a blank
In the West London derby against Queens Park Rangers, Brentford produced a perfect away team display with a mixture of quality possession and individual brilliance. Against a determined Huddersfield side who were compact and not as expansive as Rangers, Brentford found it difficult to find space in and around their penalty box. Often, the away side would gain a shape with 10 players behind the ball and the home side looked to retain possession and draw Cowley’s men forward. The Terriers were calculated in their attempts to press and chose to retreat and allow possession to be dictated by the home side.
Conditions at Griffin Park made it difficult for the home side to play with any fluency and much of their possession was played amongst the back five of goalkeeper Raya, right back Dalsgaard, centre half pairing of Jansson and Jeanvier and left-back Henry.
The comparisons between the mindset of the two teams are illustrated below in the heat map graphic. The away side tended to be more direct on regaining possession and circulation of the ball deep in their half was not a priority. With passing statistics of 236 touches between the Terriers back five vs 369 touches from the Brentford back five, there is a contrast of styles.
The away sides goal and the introduction of two fresh midfielders to the Brentford ranks, César Joel Valencia Castillo and Mathias Jensen gave the home side a lift and the intensity of their play lifted in the final 15 minutes of the game. The home sides playmaker Benrahma had six attempts on goal withNørgaard taking two strikes on goal. The home side created opportunities but came up against a determined Huddersfield side content on sucking up the pressure and using the brilliance of Grant to take the lead and the three points from West London. Franks will be disappointed and is likely to draw a line under the defeat quickly.
In this analysis, we have given credit to the hard work on the training ground that Cowley and his management team have performed. Cowley’s side look organised, determined and showed quality when it was needed. They jumped to 18th place following the 1-0 win and confidence is high. For Frank’s team, he will look to get back to work on the principles that have made his side an attractive team to watch and improve on their mid-table position
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