Fixtures that almost guarantee an action-packed 90 minutes are few and far between in the Championship. However, the West-London striped outfits of QPR and Brentford tend to deliver action whenever they meet. The 75th meeting of these two teams seemed poised to continue that tradition.
Both sides entered the Kiyan Prince Stadium with an air of confidence. The visitors were buoyed off the back of two high scoring wins and a return of 11 points from a possible 15 since adopting a 4-3-3 formation. The hosts were in good form too, as Mark Warburton’s QPR have been surprisingly impressive so far this season and recent performances against Hull City and Blackburn Rovers will have given the Rs hope that they could pick up a rare win against their neighbours.
In 2017, QPR miraculously rescued a point from 2-0 down in this fixture within the last 2 minutes, spurring Ian Holloway to berate supporters who “went home early”.
In this tactical analysis, we study how QPR and Brentford battled against each other over the 90 minutes that would again see the QPR faithful empty the stadium before the final whistle blew.
QPR had to adapt their lineup to cope without the hugely influential Jordan Hugill who was suspended for the game, having seen nearly as many yellow cards as the back of the net this campaign. Tactically they adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation, utilising the pace and industry of Hugill’s replacement, Osayi–Samuel, out on the left wing. Ebere Eze has rightly been receiving plaudits for his attacking output this season, and he looked to link with Ilias Chair and Nakhi Wells to provide a threat going forward.
As expected, Brentford named an unchanged side that swatted Swansea away 3-0 last week. Tactically, the 4-3-3 formation has been proving to be a much better fit than the 3-4-3 Thomas Frank originally adopted at the start of the campaign. This is proven by the spider chart below showing that statistically, almost every metric has improved within a 4-3-3 for Brentford, particularly goals, xG and shots on target:
Brentford’s attacking three provided a constant threat to the QPR defence, with the midfield 3 moving up to both support attacks and restrict space for QPR to play through the middle. The most defensive of the 3, Norgaard, was instrumental in breaking down any QPR attacks.
Brentford forcing QPR long or wide
When QPR were in possession, Brentford’s forward 3 would sit back and the midfield 3 would push up to condense any space in the middle of the pitch. Brentford were happy for QPR to bring the ball out of defence, knowing they’d win it back if they tried to play through them.
They were also aware that without Hugill, QPR would most likely lose any aerial duels against Pontus Jansson (6ft 5) and Julian Jeanvier (6ft 1). This restricted QPR’s options to playing unsuccessful balls out wide and long balls which mostly resulted in Brentford regaining possession.
From this image, Brentford won back possession as the QPR defenders, Leistner and Hall, don’t quite have the precision to find the full-backs. Brentford did well to restrict space in the middle of the park and in turn, restrict QPR passing options.
Brentford continued this in both halves, winning possession back and mounting penetrative counter attacks.
In this example, as Brentford are well-positioned to restrict any options, QPR’s Josh Scowan is forced to play a hopeful ball up with his back to play. This is easily recovered by Brentford and is quickly transitioned to a chance on goal for Said Benrahma. On this occasion, his shot is saved.
Brentford attacking in numbers and using the counter-press
Brentford were very fluid when attacking. The front 3 were a constant headache for the QPR backline, and both Dasilva and Mokotjo would find space between the lines to provide plenty of options in attack.
Brentford attackers would find space close to the ball carrier, and be open for quick passing triangles to both move the ball at pace and also provide counter-press cover. This meant that if they lost the ball, there were plenty of black shirts to break up any QPR attack. Fortunately for Brentford, QPR could rarely recover the ball when they attacked in numbers.
In the above still, we see just how many attacking players Brentford were throwing into offensive phases. Norgaard has plenty of options in attack with Henry, Watkins and Benrahma also poised to cover if the ball is lost.
The sheer numbers of attacking options had a pivotal part to play in Brentford’s first goal. Brentford created an overload on QPR’s box with 6 attacking players, allowing Watkins to occupy space in between the two central defenders. The Brentford players distract the QPR backline and open up pockets of space for their lethal finishers.
QPR targetting Henry on set pieces
QPR started the second half with some vigour. They looked to have undertaken some analysis of their own and realised that Brentford were restricting space centrally. Therefore they started to utilise the wings as opportunities to score.
After all, on those wings was one of the most mesmerising dribblers the championship has seen since Adama Traore in Ebere Eze. Not to forget the aptly named Bright Osayi-Samuel, who was always a useful outlet throughout and won multiple free kicks throughout the game.
As opportunities from open play were limited, QPR took to set pieces as a tactical route to goal. QPR used a combination of movement and picks to create chances from set-pieces, and looked to particularly target Rico Henry: the joint-smallest player in the Brentford team.
Nakhi Wells initially moves into Henry to throw him off his stride before powering a free header at goal. When Wells makes contact with the ball, Henry is too far away from the flight of the ball to affect play.
The Brentford goalkeeper, David Raya, pulls off an excellent save from the header resulting in a QPR corner. Again, QPR choose to target Henry and this time utilise a pick/block to provide a free header for Grant Hall. This time QPR exploited the space given to them and scored to make it 1-1. You can see from the image below how Cameron shifts his weight to block Henry, allowing Grant Hall time and space to pick his spot.
Mark Warburton had written in the matchday programme that he wanted to build a team that “Supporters could be proud of, and enjoy watching” but the disgruntled jeers from the home crowd suggested that he was further away from that than the league position portrays. For Thomas Frank, however, he looks to have perfected his tactics. Three straight wins and a performance that had technique, athleticism, and ruthlessness oozing from every pore sees Brentford as the in-form Championship side: an appearance in the Championship’s top-six looks imminent.
And as the game drew to a close, Ian Holloway’s earlier precaution about ‘leaving early’ rang true, however, it was the jubilant Brentford fans that were rewarded for staying late with a last-minute finisher to end the game 3-1.
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