Hull City were looking to end a four-game losing streak when they came up against high flying Brentford in the 2019/20 EFL Championship. The Tigers haven’t won since their 3-2 victory over Rotherham in the EFL Cup. Brentford on the other hand sat fifth in the table and have a great chance of actually getting promotion this season. Hull sat 14th before the match and the chances of them being in the play-offs are virtually impossible. With the loss of Jarrod Bowen, Hull will most certainly be looking to achieve a mid-table finish and not slip into a relegation battle. The clash between the two therefore presented an interesting one.
Brentford ended up picking up a resounding 5-1 away victory in a performance which saw Saïd Benrahma grab a hattrick. The result puts Brentford within five points of the automatic promotion places. This may be their best chance of getting promoted in a very long time. They will take confidence from recent results and look to build upon what has been an impressive season thus far. Hull City maintain in 14th position, however, with losses to key players in what only can be described as a brutal January transfer market, they may struggle going forward.
This tactical analysis will attempt to examine the tactics of both teams and the ways in which both teams attempted to win the game. This analysis will also look at how Brentford were able to be ruthless against Hull’s defensive line and how they managed to keep them out.
Hull City lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. George Long started in goal. Eric Lichaj and Steven Kingsley were the two full-backs, they would look to provide attacking support going forward. Reece Burke and Ryan Tafazolli were the two centre-backs. They would have their work cut out with the attacking talent Brentford had on show. Jackson Irvine and Leonardo Lopes were the two holding midfielders. They would look to maintain possession in order to provide Hull with a base upon which to attack with. Mallik Wilks and Keane Lewis-Potter were the wingers. Counter-attacking would be vital and the pair were essential to this. George Honeyman was the attacking midfielder, with Josh Magennis as the main striker.
As for Brentford, they lined up in a 4-3-3 formation. David Raya started in between the sticks. The full-backs were Rico Henry and Henrik Dalsgaard. They were looking to get forward and provide another avenue of attacking play. Ethan Pinnock and Julian Jeanvier were the two centre-backs. Christian Nørgaard was the holding midfielder, looking to have an influence on the game with his ball retention skills. Josh Dasilva and Mathias Jensen were the two more advanced midfielders, who looked to support the front three. This was made up of Saïd Benrahma, Ollie Watkins and Bryan Mbeumo who all posed a massive threat going forward.
Brentford’s front three
Brentford were ruthless in their chance conversion and were able to create multiple goal scoring opportunities. This can be heavily attributed to their front three. Benrahma, Watkins and Mbeumo. Their positioning throughout the game is something that is worth deeper analysis. Often, they would come narrow in order to allow link up play which would then lead to chance creation. This is in line with the technical ability and pace that all three possess. The credit will go to Benrahma for getting the hattrick, however, the performance and positioning of all three players were excellent and this can be seen as a main reason as to why they were able to pick up the win in comfortable fashion. Being narrow allowed this to occur at a more regular rate.
Below is a good example of this. We can see the front three all very close to one another and it allows them to play off each other in order to create chances. Although this was not the pattern seen throughout the match, in spells it was used as a tactical set up to get the best out of the attacking players they possess. The front three were almost identical to the way that Brendan Rodgers operates his front three at Leicester City. They were simply too much for Hull City on the day which is shown by the score line.
However, as mentioned this was not something that was seen throughout the match. Often the front three would in fact separate and be wide in order to create space for the attacking midfielders to run into. This also gave Hull a defensive problem as they were being stretched across the pitch. This not only highlights the quality of the front three players but the quality of tactical setup by the Brentford setup in order to be pragmatic and get the best out of these high-quality players. On any day Brentford’s attacking players can hurt any defence and they are clearly hitting the heights playing together.
Below is an example of the front three being in wider positions and allowing spaces for the midfielders to run into. Benrahma, as mentioned, scored a hattrick and this can be attributed to his variation in positioning which caused confusion for the opposing defence. As will also be mentioned later, Hull operated in a low block so finding ways in which to break this down was essential. This variation of tactical usage when discussing the front three, therefore, was a key way in which Brentford looked to hurt Hull going forward.
Brentford’s defensive line
Despite Brentford being so dominant with the ball and so ruthless in front of goal, it is vital to look at their defensive organisation. They only conceded one goal which was a massive mistake by Raya in goal. Despite Brentford lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation it was often the case that they would switch to a back three to allow Rico Henry the licence to go forward. Dalsgaard, Pinnock and Jeanvier would, therefore, shift across to give extra defensive protection. This was to prevent any counter-attack that Hull might have come forward with. Brentford have used the three at the back before and are therefore used to it which is evident as to why they were able to cope with the limited counter-attacks that Hull came with.
Below highlights the shape that they often found themselves in. The three defenders would be in position and Henry would be allowed to use his attacking talent in further areas of the pitch. This is not to suggest that it was used throughout the whole match however, this usage of the three central defenders was used in situations where Brentford knew that a potential counter-attack from Hull was likely. Credit must once again be attributed to the Brentford setup to prevent this from happening. It is also important to give credit to the defensive players as they were able to keep Hull out for much of the match despite a moment of madness from the keeper.
However, as mentioned this was not something that was seen throughout the match. Often the front three would in fact separate and be wide in order to create space for the attacking midfielders to run into. This also gave Hull a defensive problem as they were being stretched across the pitch. This not only highlights the quality of the front three players but the quality of tactical setup by the Brentford setup in order to be pragmatic and get the best out of these high-quality players. On any day Brentford’s attacking players can hurt any defence and they are clearly hitting the hights playing together.
Below is an example of the front three being in wider positions and allowing spaces for the midfielders to run into. Benrahma as mentioned scored a hattrick and this can be attributed to his variation in positioning which caused confusion for the opposing defence. As will also be mentioned later, Hull operated in a low block so finding ways in which to break this down was essential. This variation of tactical usage when discussing the front three therefore was a key way in which Brentford looked to hurt Hull going forward.
Hull’s low block
Despite Hull being deeply disappointing and worthy of a 5-1 thrashing, it is important to look at how they attempted to win the game. The main way they looked to stop Brentford was to simply use the low block to prevent them having space to create from. This involved getting bodies back behind the ball in order to stop Brentford being able to play their usual game. Throughout the game and especially in the second half we could see Hull parked outside their own box looking to nick to ball off the Brentford players when they had the opportunity to do so. There was therefore not that much tactical usage that came to plan in this game, however, the low block did at times prevent Brentford from scoring more goals.
Below is an excellent example of the effective usage of Hull’s low block. We can see nine players parked in and around their own 18-yard box. This was to simply prevent Brentford’s attacking players from finding themselves in any opportunities to potentially score or create a chance on goal. Although this was not effective and Hull conceded five goals, this was the idea behind their defensive structure.
Hull did not really get in the game at all, and using a low block was almost a way to prevent an embarrassing score line. Getting players back and looking to nick it in key areas was almost the only tactical usage that they seemed to use. They did not press nor did they attempt to keep the ball and look to find good passes to hurt what is not a perfect Brentford defence. When they did get the ball they simply went long which in turn simply put more pressure on themselves. This shows why the low block had to be used as it was their only option when Brentford attempted to come forward.
Below is another example of the low block that was in place. Nearly all the Hull players are behind the ball in order to prevent the creative players getting space to work with. This may be described as boring, however, when done properly it is a really effective tactic that can prevent opposing teams having any chances when in possession of the football. Hull did not defend very well, however, the objective was to prevent Brentford having attacking chances.
Focusing this section of the analysis on Nørgaard is not to focus on his performance as such but more to look at the role he was attributed in Brentford’s attacking play. As discussed earlier, Brentford often shifted to a back three with the right-back forming a three with the other two central defenders. This meant that Nørgaard was often free in spaces that he could use to influence the game. It was clear to see that the positions he was picking up within the centre circle and around the centre of the pitch. This is important for the modern defensive midfielder as their role has increasingly changed into being the hub of attacking play. Nørgaard was instrumental in this game and the main reason for this was his ability to find spaces in key areas.
Below is an example of this. His positioning has allowed him to get into a space whereby he can turn and find a good pass forward into an attacking player. This shows the mark of a good defensive midfielder in terms of having the awareness to find space and being able to find spaces that can be used to influence the game.
Hull tried to get near him by almost making a cage around him to prevent him finding passes, however, this failed. Brentford’s flexible system both with the centre-backs and the attacking players on the pitch meant that passes were able to be found easily. Nørgaard’s positioning, however, was so key to being a steady influence in Brentford’s midfield. The attacking players Brentford have may be getting all the credit in such an excellent attacking performance, however, the role of Nørgaard should be attributed the same amount of respect as it was often him finding spaces and shifting the ball quickly which resulted in Brentford being able to move up the pitch at a more regular rate.
The image below highlights a few things. It shows the space that Nørgaard found himself in and how Hull attempted to deal with it. Nørgaard managed to beat this ‘cage’ that Hull used very well and can be seen as a key reason as to why Brentford were able to maintain possession well and move up the pitch in a neat fashion.
To conclude, Brentford were deserved winners in this game. They displayed good tactical knowledge to deal with Hull’s minimal threat and at the same time used their attacking players to destroy the opposition backline. Moving forward they will take huge confidence in terms of achieving a play off place. Hull on the other hand will be disappointed that they were not able to hurt Brentford going forward. Looking ahead they will be lucky to achieve a mid-table finish considering the losses they have obtained during the January transfer window. They will need to improve defensively to have any chance of achieving a successful season.