Both Brentford and Swansea City have talented squads, with experience and youthfulness fused together to make exciting teams that fans love watching. When they met in October, Brentford boss Thomas Frank led his side to a 3-0 victory over opposing manager Steve Cooper. This game, therefore, was very highly anticipated. There are several points of analysis to make, and both sides had good and bad tactics defensively and in attack. This piece of tactical analysis will focus on these, and how one side’s tactics influenced the other during this Championship match.
Changes were made to both sides for this one. Brentford saw Sweden defender Pontus Jansson return to the starting 11 after missing the draw with West Bromwich Albion at the weekend. Julian Jeanvier moved to the bench as a result. The other change for them saw Christian Norgaard also move to the bench, with South Africa midfielder Kamohelo Mokotjo coming in to replace him. For Swansea City, the biggest blow for them was captain Mike van der Hoorn injuring himself during the warm-up, especially when fellow defender Joe Rodon is out injured already. Ben Cabango was given a start in the Dutchman’s place, and the other change saw Sam Surridge come in to lead the line, with Borja Baston moving to the bench.
Brentford limits space
The first half was more a battle of the defences, and the different tactics deployed by both Thomas Frank and Steve Cooper, trying to ensure that the opposing attacks couldn’t find a way through. Both tactics worked to an extent, but the fact that the final score was 3-1 to Brentford means that one of the teams managed to find a way to win this game.
Beginning with the Bees, Frank appeared to want his team to play counter-attacking football, and to trust his front three of Bryan Mbeumo, Said Benrahma, and Ollie Watkins to be effective with the ball once Brentford had gained possession. There were two very good reasons for this tactic being used as it was. Firstly, as previously mentioned, the Swans were missing their captain Mike van der Hoorn, who is arguably one of the best centre-backs in the Championship at the moment. That meant they wouldn’t have to apply too much pressure on Swansea’s backline as they normally would, because the Dutchman would not be running forwards and joining the attacks like he tends to do.
Secondly, it meant Swansea City’s star attacking players, such as Bersant Celina and Andre Ayew, weren’t afforded any space behind the Brentford defence to run into or to receive the ball in. This all meant that the Swans may have had the ball, but had no choice except to play a long ball over these three ranks and at that point Brentford could clear the ball, and counter. So for these two reasons, this was a win-win situation for the Bees. The image below shows how they managed to organise themselves to play in this way, and the effect it had on Swansea’s attack.
Swans let down by consistency
Swansea City, however, were also playing their own defensive tactic. Brentford’s main source of goals this season has been Watkins, who before this game had scored 13 so far this season. So what Swansea did was clever. Steve Cooper’s side left Mbeumo and Benrahma reasonably unmarked but ensured that when they did get the ball, Watkins couldn’t be found with any kind of pass. The images below show this much more clearly, but it worked, because in the first 15 minutes of the match, Watkins did not touch the ball once. Credit must go to Steve Cooper for realising this and arranging his defence to play in this way.
The thing about Swansea this season that has let them down so far has been consistency. So it was perhaps inevitable that either the Swans would lose focus momentarily, or that Brentford would find a way to play around it. In fact, it was the Swans who caused this.
The images above have shown how, when Swansea City were defending, they kept all of their gaps as equal as possible, and were disciplined with their movements. But below, you can see the moment when Ollie Watkins grabbed Brentford’s second goal, and it clearly shows how the gap where Watkins has the ball has grown bigger. This means there is now space for Brentford to attack, and it also shows how difficult it is for teams to play this way consistently, because inevitably something will give and the opposing team will grab their chance, just as Brentford did.
I think Steve Cooper must have noticed this, because in the second half, the defence was back working together, as shown below. But by this stage, the damage had already been done, because Brentford had gone in at the break two goals up.
There were positives for Steve Cooper and Swansea though, as three of their players had important effects on the team, and I will look at all three of them in turn.
Brentford forced to open up
Firstly, Bosnia winger Bersant Celina was given a role as a wide player in this match. Normally, he prefers to play a little more centrally, getting shots away and creating opportunities from behind the striker, but Steve Cooper wanted to stretch Brentford’s defence, and so did so using Celina’s width. This meant that when Celina had the ball in this wide area, Brentford had to move across to try and stop him advancing into the box or crossing to another player inside the box.
But the downside of that for Brentford was that they opened up gaps where Swansea could then exploit them, and this is clearly shown in the image below. This was a constant throughout the whole match, as every time Swansea got the ball, Celina was always a target. In summary, Swansea’s whole attacking system relied on getting the ball wide to Celina, and then crossing it into the box, thus stretching Brentford’s back line.
Bora Baston & Andre Ayew
Andre Ayew was probably the best player on the pitch for Swansea City. He had a slightly frustrating first half, mainly due to the aforementioned Brentford tactic of starving him of possession, but in the second half he was closing down the Bees’ defenders, forcing them into errors, and for this reason, both Swansea and Brentford were completely different sides in the second half. Brentford looked less comfortable in defence, and Swansea seemed to have been released slightly to go and attack and press them so that they made more errors.
But the main reason for Ayew’s excellent performance in the second half was the introduction from the bench of Spanish striker Borja Baston. Once a Swansea flop, this season he has been reinvigorated, and he was hugely influential on Swansea’s improvement at Griffin Park. On-loan Bournemouth striker Sam Surridge had started this match, but wasn’t able to make his mark on the match as he would have liked to, but Baston gave Swansea more pace and more energy in attack.
It was this partnership between Ayew and Baston that then allowed the Swans to get in the faces of Brentford’s defenders, causing problems for them. It also provided Swansea City with more space behind the Brentford midfield, and in front of the defence, which meant Swansea had more space to work with, and Brentford had to bring their midfielders back to help cover this open area. This led to Brentford not being able to get as far forward as they would have like to in the second half, and certainly not as often as in the first half. You can see below how, on numerous occasions, the two of them worked together to press the Bees.
Although this had no effect on the scoreline, for me it showed that Baston has to start for Swansea City. They had dropped down the table following their impressive start to the season, and have now climbed back up to sit in eighth, just two points off the playoffs. I think if Baston and Ayew are playing together in matches, Swansea have more of a chance of scoring goals and of winning. Unfortunately for Surridge, there isn’t that link-up play and that relationship between him and Ayew, as was the case in this match.
Brentford will obviously be the happier side after this result, with another three points scored as they continue to show why they are not just a force in this league, but a force pushing for promotion to the Premier League when the season ends. Both sides had their opportunities, but Swansea’s main enemy at the moment seems to be consistency. They came into this game on the back of a very hard-fought win against Luton Town at Kenilworth Road at the weekend and had moved into the playoff places as a result.
Here, though, they will feel they weren’t quite there in terms of matching Brentford’s quality, and the biggest thing that I think Steve Cooper’s side will be annoyed at is that they never seemed to get going until around the 70th minute. If they want to be in the playoffs on the 2nd May, then they need to perhaps have a look around in January to bring in one or two players to just help them over the line, because it looks not just from today but from previous fixtures like they are missing something. As for Brentford, perhaps they need one or two players to offer more depth, but no major squad surgery is required. They are moving along very nicely thus far.
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