Analysis: How potential PL newcomers Brentford operate under Frank Thomas


Brentford are one of the most exciting teams to watch in the EFL Championship. After all, they have scored the most goals in the second division this season so far. And they are also placed well on the table after 32 games, as they sit in 2nd position with 60 points.

The top two, of course, earn direct promotion to the Premier League. And if the table stays the same way, Brentford would be promoted to the Premier League for the first time in their history.

Hence, it becomes more interesting for the PL fans to understand how the potential newcomers set up and play under their manager, Frank Thomas.

Brentford like to play their own variation of a 4-3-3 formation

An attacking 4-3-3 formation is how Brentford line up, especially this season. It is certainly not the first time that Thomas has deployed this formation, but it is definitely the first season where it has become their default formation.

Thomas Frank is the Brentford manager since he was appointed in that post in October 2018.
Thomas Frank is the Brentford manager since he was appointed in that post in October 2018. (GETTY Images)

The attacking variant of the 4-3-3 formation was used by Thomas last season in the Championship as well. It became common only near the turn of 2020. However, it makes sense to analyse their set up from this season as this squad could be the one to make its way to the Premier League next season.

To start off, the Danish gaffer prefers a midfield three. He likes 28-year-old German midfielder Vitaly Janelt to play as a defensive midfielder. Along with him, he deploys 22-year-old Josh Da Silva and Danish midfielder Mathias Jensen in central midfield, with more freedom than Janelt to push forward.

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Brentford (Red, white and black kit) defending in a solid 4-3-3 with two central midfielders and a defensive midfielder sitting a little deep to give them cover. (Brentford vs Fulham this season in the EFL Cup)

In the image above, it is evident how they set up off the ball. The midfield maintains its shape, the full-backs are tucked in to provide defensive cover, and the wingers double up as wide midfielders to give cover to the full-backs.

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Both Brentford midfielders diligently cover their halves of the midfield, pushing forward when necessary and also providing defensive stability when out of possession. (SofaScore)

When attacking, their midfield two like to make runs into the box. Da Silva and Jansen are real workhorses and cover a lot of grass each game, as visible from their heatmap above. And in the image below, Da Silva is seen with one of his runs into the box where he ends up scoring against Reading in a 3-1 win this season.

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Da Silva (player in the black kit in possession) exemplifies the runs from midfield that Brentford make when in possession.

And talking about their wingers, Bryan Mbeumo is one that certainly impresses. The 21-year-old right-winger has followed up a great 2019/20 season with 4 goals and 8 assists so far this season in the Championship.

On the other side, Thomas has Sergi Canos has grabbed 6 goals and 5 assists so far.

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Brentford wingers in the Championship this season. Both of them hug the touchline and are active in defence when not in possession, thus showing a balanced approach to the game. (SofaScore)
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Analysis: How potential PL newcomers Brentford operate under Frank Thomas 9

The image above perfectly sums up how the club attacks when in possession and how their wingers function alongside the full-backs. The ones marked red are their wingers, who are the furthest up the pitch, wanting to spread out the attack and make runs on the wings.

The ones marked black are the midfielders. Two of them are willing to offer support in attack, while the defensive midfielder stays behind for protection on counters. The ones marked in white are the ones who make Brentford’s system a little different to most of the attacking 4-3-3 formations.

Left-back Mads Bech Sorensen and right-back Henrik Daalsgard are keener on the defensive side of the game than the attacking side. Instead of pushing forward as flying wing-backs, the two opt to stay in a conservative position in order to make the club resistant to counter-attacks down their wings. This is best displayed in the image above.

To have more evidence of that. just take a peek at left-back Sorenson’s heatmap. This is certainly an odd sight to see a fullback have so less significant action in the opposition’s half.

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Mads Bech Sorensen in the Championship this season. (SofaScore)

This gives their backline a neat and symmetrical organizational look when defending. The image below highlights it again. Here, the Brentford back four (marked in white) are well organized when defending a Middlesbrough attack during their 4-1 win this season.

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Analysis: How potential PL newcomers Brentford operate under Frank Thomas 10

Their striker, Ivan Toney, has been nothing sort of phenomenal this season. He was signed from Peterborough this summer, with the task of replacing Ollie Watkins, who was sold to Aston Villa after a 25-goal season in the Championship.

And he has replaced Watkins well. The 24-year-old Englishman already has 24 goals and 9 assists so far this season, which is a ridiculous number considering this is his first season in the Championship.

This is also evidence of their Moneyball approach, which they have adopted recently, where they buy players for cheap, sell them for a big fee, then replace them for the cheap again.


So now, we know what Thomas Frank really does at Brentford. This is a system that looks capable of surviving in the Premier League as well, provided they win promotion.

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With a system that concentrates on both attack and defence, and an attack that is quite potent, Brentford are definitely one of the most balanced and exciting sides to watch in the Championship.

(All match images are taken from Brentford Football Club’s official YouTube account).