In Brentford’s last-ever season at Griffin Park, the Bees are in a prime position to clinch a playoff place. In this Championship matchup, they hosted a struggling Sheffield Wednesday who sit in the bottom half of the table. Sheffield Wednesday are coming into this match with only one win in their last five matches (W1, D1, L3). Whereas Brentford were winless in five league games (D4, L1), the last time they had a worse run of form was back in December 2018 (six without a win). So a win would have put either of the teams back on track for the remainder of the season.
A well balanced Brentford performance resulted in keeping a clean sheet and their frightening attack were able to put five goals past a disorganised Sheffield Wednesday. Brentford had numerous players who stood out but Emiliano Marcondes showed his true quality on Saturday with a goal of the season contender and an exquisite assist which took them 3-0 up before half time. The home fans certainly got their money’s worth for this match.
The home side set up in their customary 4-3-3 which has been very effective this season, they have used this formation 91% of the time. Brentford manager, Thomas Frank only made one change in their line-up as Julian Jeanvier replaced last weekend’s goalscorer, Luka Racic. In game, both Saïd Benrahma and Byran Mbeumo were licenced to stay high and wide to stretch Sheffield Wednesday and create holes in their backline to be exploited.
Gary Monk slightly altered their go to 4-2-2 formation, to a 4-4-1-1. Cameron Dawson remained in goal after their 3-1 defeat to Derby last weekend. The only change in the back four was Julian Börner being replaced by Dominic Iorfa. In central midfield, Joey Pelupessy returned to the side and alongside him was Barry Bannan. On the flanks, they remained with the same as last weekend but up front changed as Forestieri was dropped for last weekend’s goalscorer who came off the bench, Josh Windass. Upfront Steven Fletcher kept his spot as the lone striker. Sheffield looked to remain solid with two banks of four and have Fletcher as their outlet, with Windass supporting him.
Penetrative passes cause Sheffield Wednesday lapse
This season Brentford have been playing progressive football by playing through the lines, this is shown in their 84.65 average progressive passes per game this campaign. However, in this match, their main strategy was being as direct as possible by opening up Sheffield Wednesday in the channels. Brentford’s progressive passes dropped to 69 on Saturday, this shows their intent to try hit the space in behind and release their wingers. They frequently found Sheffield Wednesday’s full-backs out of position, which lead to openings for Brentford to attack with a lapse in Sheffield Wednesday’s defence. Before this game, only Hull City (24) conceded more Championship goals during 2020 than Sheffield Wednesday (19).
In the picture below, Morgan Fox has pressed beyond Ollie Watkins and this has left a gap behind him which isn’t being covered. The unnoticed Watkins gets on the blind side of Fox and then Christian Nørgaard can launch the ball to set off a quick counter-attack down the line, focusing on the weakness by Sheffield Wednesday’s poor positioning.
It wasn’t just Fox to blame, Sheffield Wednesday were stretched across their whole back four, this allowed Brentford to play into the passing lanes with ease. Below we can see Emiliano Marcondes playing through Bryan Mbeumo due to the spaced-out defence. This created Brentford’s third goal in the match and put them in a comfortable position before half time.
This continued throughout the game and it caused problems for Sheffield Wednesday. Both of the away teams’ full-backs were trying to support their attackers, they would hug the side-line to try to stretch Brentford. However, it massively backfired. Brentford remained compact at the back and then looked to utilise the space left by the full-backs. The home side made sure they were doing it within reason, as they tallied a success rate of 75% for smart passes which is showing the quality due to their season average only being 41.7%.
This tactic worked perfectly against Sheffield Wednesday because previously Brentford would retain the ball and transition the ball through the thirds on the floor but in this game, it would have allowed the opposition full-backs to get back into position and recover. A great example is shown below where Liam Palmer has been caught out and he is very far apart from his centre back pairing, Iorfa. It allows Benrahma to hit the channel and Watkins to take away the opponent, Benrahma plucks the ball out of the sky and creates a 2 v 2 scenario where they set off another quick counter-attack.
Brentford’s brick wall
Unlike Sheffield Wednesday, Brentford were compact and organised. This made it very hard for the visitors to break them down. Brentford did this by being a lot narrower with their defenders, being squeezed tight instead of being stretched. This did leave spaces on the wings, however, it never seemed to cause any real danger as Sheffield Wednesday took a high amount of 23 crosses but only achieved a low success rate of 8.7%. This was due to the low commitment of players in the opposition’s box. In the picture below, we can see six Brentford players packing the box but there is only half of that amount of Sheffield Wednesday compared to Brentford players.
By clustering up on the edge of the box it doesn’t give the crosser many options. Ideally, one player should be running near post, one staying on the penalty spot in case the ball is cut back and one making a darting run back post if it is lofted over the top. This would have upped their chances of having a higher success rate via crosses. They could have taken advantage of this to exploit Brentford’s lack of cover on the wings due to their backline being narrow.
The narrow spacing between the backline denies any room for Sheffield Wednesday to open up through the passing lanes. In the picture above, we can see a very flat line guarding the edge of the box. In this possession of play, it forced Sheffield Wednesday to go back as there is no options or way through them. Brentford’s defensive displays also resulted in them having a higher amount of clearances against Sheffield Wednesday (20) than their season average of 16.56, a solid afternoon that got overlooked by the attackers’ magnificent display.
With their formation adjustment for this match, it left lone striker Fletcher isolated as Windass struggled to stay close and link up with him. It was a recurrence when the ball got fired into Fletcher, no players were willing to run beyond him so it left him helpless upfront. This kept Sheffield Wednesday at distance from the goal which left them frustrated and caused them to shoot from further out than usual as they were averaging a shot 19.53m away from goal.
Eventually, Windass came off for Connor Wickham in the 46th minute to try to win more flick-ons to support Fletcher. This failed as Sheffield Wednesday only won under half of their offensive duels (47.46%). Nevertheless, Fletcher got substituted for Kadeem Harris in the 65th minute of play and Wickham dropped in the number ten role to continue to be a target man for Harris to run onto.
This analysis shows how Brentford’s change-up in tactics paid off, their use of effective counter-attacks caught an off guard Sheffield Wednesday. Statistically speaking, Brentford were only countering with shots on average 3.21 times this season. However, against Sheffield Wednesday they upped it tremulously to six times in the game. As for Gary Monk’s Sheffield Wednesday, they certainly need to go back to the drawing board after a run of bad form in 2020 from some dreadful defensive displays. It was an interesting affair between the two teams as they both applied a direct approach but the more precise style came out on top.