Following success in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday, Everton go in search of their first victory in the Premier League this weekend. Saturday afternoon's match against Brentford will be followed by another road trip to a resurgent Leeds United on Tuesday evening. The transfer window crashes shut 48 hours after that visit to West Yorkshire, so if the Blues are going to make additional signings, time is running short.
Brighton striker Neal Maupay appears, at time of writing, to be on the verge of joining the Merseysiders, probably for a fee of around £15m, but is unlikely to feature at the Gtech Community Stadium at the weekend, even if registered in time, considering he has yet to play any football this season. So, it appears almost certain that veteran Salomon Rondon will be leading the line once again. At this point, I think it’s best to refrain from any negativity and to just move on!
Realistically, given the team’s blunt edge in the final third and the hosts solid start to the new campaign, a draw would be a decent result, as this would at least keep some positive momentum going. A loss would pile more pressure on Frank Lampard, with a slightly daunting visit to Elland Road to follow and then very difficult matches against Liverpool and Arsenal early next month.
The Premier League new boys exceeded all expectations last season, securing a highly respectable 13th-place finish and amassing 46 points. Operating skilfully in the transfer market over a number of years, Brentford finally made it to the top division and, despite some rocky moments, stayed there by a comfortable margin in the end. Starting the campaign well, the West Londoners looked to be running out of steam around the turn of the year, culminating in a winless stretch of eight matches, including seven defeats. Those rooting for a side generally perceived as plucky underdogs (their fantastic new stadium only holds a little over 17,000 fans) felt that they were sliding inexorably towards the relegation zone, with little hope of reversing their fortunes. The surprise arrival of Christian Eriksen during the winter transfer window helped turn things around. As soon as the ex-Spurs man got back up to speed, results improved and the team finished the campaign strongly, registering seven wins from their remaining eleven fixtures, to steer them well clear of danger.
More shrewd signings have arrived this summer, Brentford having to date spent more than £40m net on new players such as former Everton target Keane Lewis-Potter, talented 20-year old Aaron Hickey, veteran free agent Ben Mee and Mikkel Damsgaard, who caught the eye at last year’s UEFA European Championships. Eriksen departed to Manchester United once his short-term contract expired, but the Bees have made a solid start to the new season, battling back from a two-goal deficit to secure a draw against Leicester City, followed by a 4-0 dismantling of Manchester United. A similar fightback at Craven Cottage saw the side succumb to a last minute winner by Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic. Thomas Frank’s men got back on track last time out, brushing past League Two minnows Colchester United in the League Cup.
Style of Play
Danish manager Frank played a 3-5-2 formation for much of the last campaign, switching to a back four to accommodate Eriksen in a three-man midfield over the last couple of months. Brentford have started the new campaign with the same pattern, adopting a 4-3-3 but going with a 3-5-2 against (on paper) stronger opposition. Last term, the team was a danger at set-pieces, ranking fourth in the league with 15 goals, against just one from counter-attacking situations and 24 from open-play. They were also adept at winning penalties (six), unsurprising given the strength and pace of primary striker Ivan Toney. Defensively, they were somewhat vulnerable in transition, conceding six goals on the counter, level with Leeds United and just one behind Aston Villa. The Bees were happy to go direct at times, with 16% of passes being “long”, but were competent in playing it along the ground also.
Frank has shown himself to be a highly adaptive manager, as shown by his fielding different formations dependent on the perceived strength of the opponent. His team can compete for possession but is equally comfortable hitting direct passes to tall and mobile front man Toney, who is more than capable of then bringing his supporting teammates, such as Bryan Mbeumo into play. Against teams such as the Blues, it’s to be expected that Brentford will press high, looking to force mistakes or to cause the opponent to go long, something which has plagued Everton over the past year or so. The Bees are full of athletic individuals and those with aerial presence and are a hard-working, organised unit that really play for each other and rarely look shaken or demoralised.
Star man at Brentford is undeniably Toney, who has started the season in great form. Tall, powerful and fast the striker scored 12 goals last season (five from the penalty spot) and already has hit the back of the net twice this term, along with a couple of assists. Something of an old-school number nine, the 26-year old has won 33.3% of his aerial duels so far and gives central defenders a real battle every time.
David Raya minds the net and is an active part of the team’s play, in addition to being a pretty decent shot-stopper. The Spaniard is quick off his line in anticipating danger (89th percentile in defensive actions outside his box) and is heavily involved in Brentford’s passing (46.5 touches per 90 minutes).
Mathias Jensen keeps the Bees midfield ticking over in the absence of fellow Dane Eriksen. His 3.27 Shot-Creating Actions per 90 rank very highly (93rd percentile). The former Celta Vigo man is also an active contributor in defence, with 26.93 pressures per 90.
Again shy of attacking options - reduced further after Dele Alli’s departure to Besiktas on loan - Lampard must once more set up to play the percentages. The team offers little threat from open play, but has looked much more dangerous from set-pieces after the arrival of James Tarkowski; should he play, Amadou Onana could be a major contributor in such situations. The Blues seem much more stout and organised defending corners and free kicks this term. Everton have only conceded a single goal from open play to date, although they’ve shipped two from counterattacks already, which is a concern. As noted, the Bees are not particularly dangerous in transition, though they did exploit a very disorganised Manchester United side in this fashion, so should not be taken lightly.
It is to be expected that the Toffees may well play similarly to the way they went about the game at Villa Park, albeit with a true striker rather than a winger shoehorned into an uncomfortable role. As short as they are in attack, the Blues do not have many fit options in midfield, other than Alex Iwobi. It is probable that either Onana or Tom Davies, should he recover in time from a minor niggle which kept him out of Tuesday’s cup match, will partner the reborn Nigerian in the centre of the park. The visitors could do with more progressive play from their wing-backs than we’ve seen up to now, in order to avoid their 3-4-3 formation being pushed into a 5-2-3.
Quoted stats courtesy of Fbref.com and WhoScored.com