Last Season Summary
With Brentford, it would not be fair to merely summarize their last season. When it comes to playing in the top flight, it would make more sense to sum up the past century. Since the top flight was given the moniker of the Premier League in 1992, Brentford, or The Bees as they are affectionately known, have never appeared in the league’s near-30 year history. Simply known as the First Division prior to that, you have to go even farther back to find the last time the Bees were playing in England’s top league. Not the 80’s, not the 70’s, not the 60’s or 50’s. Their last taste of the big show came in the 1940’s, after their only prolonged run in the First Division that began in the mid-1930’s. Long story short…this is not your average English football promotion. This is rather historic. Last season began with the opening of a new stadium, after having playing on their previous ground for over a century. This is a club that has been grinding through the years in second, third and fourth divisions, at one point, nearly collapsing in the late 60’s. So it cannot be understated – loyal fans of this club are going to be absolutely bonkers with pride and elation when the Bees are at home this season. For Brentford supporters of any age, this has been the moment they have been waiting for their entire lives.
It was a dramatic promotion for the Bees last season. Unlike Norwich and Watford, who gained automatic promotion for finishing in the top two, Brentford finished third, meaning they would have to win the promotional playoffs. They did so by getting past AFC Bournemouth over two legs and then a tidy 2-0 win over Swansea City in the final. What was the catalyst that made this historically middling-club, spending the better part of the century in the third and fourth tier leagues of football make the jump this season? Well, as often is the case – money. And there is no coincidence that bringing in some good talent that has developed along with a brand new stadium created a winning attitude around the club. They had already let go of one of their young stars to Aston Villa last season in Ollie Watkins, and they still met their objectives. The question is now, how will they fare against the big boys? No doubt the fan support will be incredible and there are definitely players in this squad who are PL-ready. But this is a club as short on experience as it can get. Typically, a promoted side will have at least 2-3 players with prior PL experience. The Bees are coming in extremely raw. Ivan Toney would be the leader in top flight «experience», once a member of Newcastle United, he made two appearances in PL games one season that totaled a whopping ten minutes on the pitch. It will be a learning curve to be sure for all players in this promotional campaign, but they do have a certain chemistry and the hope is that they use their collective lack of experience as a means of motivation.
The Bees have lost only one player that had any significant impact with the club last season, center back Henrik Dalsgaard. Now 32 years of age, he looks to end his career in his home country of Norway, moving there to play for domestic giants FC Midtjylland. He was second among defenders in terms of starts last season and was present in the XI that beat Swansea to lift the Bees to top flight status. Emiliano Marcondes and Luke Daniels, peripheral figures last season, saw their contracts expire while seldom-used Aaron Pressley has been loaned out to AFC Wimbledon.
What is probably more frightening for Brentford supporters is the potential exit of a star player or two, as plenty of clubs are interested in the young talent that led them to this position. Goalkeeper David Raya has said he wants a move to Arsenal. Ivan Toney, the goal-machine that carried the team last season, is coveted by many clubs. And promising young left back Rico Henry is also drawing interest in the market. The Bees are limited both in time and funds to get their roster right. It would be a major blow for any of these players to move on without an adequate replacement.
With the jump to the «big dance», the Bees are in desperate need of more than just «adequate replacements» though. However, they have one made major addition to date, and it directly addresses the hole left by the departed Dalsgaard. Norwegian international Kristoffer Ajer has come to London by way of Celtic, and should be a lock as one of the three center backs in manager Thomas Frank’s system. You may have spotted Ajer in the Norway side that battled in this summer’s Euros. Just 23 years of age, he could be a cornerstone in this side for many years to come if Brentford can navigate their way to safety this first season and continue to build this club up. Even if it only turns out to be a one-season cameo for the club though, you can count on Ajer as a regular assuming he avoids injury.
The only other addition so far has been a loan spell for Frank Onyeka, a defensive-minded midfielder who comes over form the same club Dalsgaard moved to, an example of two clubs working together to address their needs. Onyeka has little to no fantasy appeal, even if he were to nail down regular playing time, particularly in the FPL format.
Ivan Toney – If there is one thing that everyone knows about Brentford already, it is that Toney represents, hands down, the best looking fantasy weapon on the team. Pretty hard to argue when you are coming off a Golden Boot in the Championship last season, putting up a staggering 33 goals in 44 starts. Only three other players in the league scored as many as 20 last season. He is the clear focal point of this attack and his ability to score frequently will probably make or break Brentford’s season. He is already a very popular choice in FPL squads before the season starts and in some draft leagues, might be the only Bee taken off the board.
David Raya – A promotional season for a small club needs much to go right to survive, and typically the quality of goalkeeper can play a major role in that hope for survival. Raya started all but four of Brentford’s 46 league games last season, and the team had a decent defensive record in the Championship, conceding just a bit over 1 goal per game on average. Obviously, this is a major step up in competition, so the Bees are almost certain to get stung by the attack of their opponents much more frequently this season. Still, at least in FPL, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Raya may not be among the leaders in clean sheets, but he could be busy racking up saves and dipping into bonus in games where the Bees collect a point or three. Most seasons, one of the promoted 4.5m keepers provides excellent value. Just look at Illan Meslier last season.
Pontus Jansson – Brentford’s captain, Jansson figures to be a regular at center back along with new signing Ajer and Ethan Pinnock, who led all defenders on the club in pitch time last season. Injuries led to Jansson starting only half of his club’s league games last season but he is fit as preseason gets close to wrapping up. Frank went a long stretch of last season with a back four, but down the stretch, employed a three-center-back/wingback look. With the addition of Ajer, either Frank plans to stick with three at the back going forward, or there is going to be some competition here. Given his armband status though, Jansson seems the most nailed on.
Rico Henry – Briefly mentioned already, Henry is probably the most exciting fantasy prospect among Brentford’s defenders. He is young and he is quick and the job is clearly his. If he can develop his game a bit more, improve his crossing and positioning, perhaps he can add a bit of an attacking threat that would make him a solid investment at 4.5m.
Bryan Mbeumo/Sergi Canos – While Toney may be getting 99% of the attention among Brentford’s’ attacking weapons, Mbeumo is certainly a young talent worth monitoring as a potential budget option on fantasy rosters. He chipped in eight goals and ten assists, operating mainly on the right wing, opposite Sergi Canos, who himself balanced out the goal distribution with nine goals himself, to go along with eight assists. Until any wingers are brought in from the market, this pair looks pretty nailed on to support Toney this season.
Whether Thomas Frank opts for a 4-3-3 or a wingback formation, the gig on the far right side of defense appears to be a wide-open battle and perhaps one that will be solved through the transfer window. Because, as of right now, Mads Roerslev, seems to be the only option with no competition. He was used both as a standard right back in a back four as well as a wingback in that formation, so his versatility is of use, but one would imagine a battle will be in place with a likely addition. Whoever might be brought in, sight unseen, would likely have the edge over Roerslev.
The battle for a spot in midfield, whether it be two or three spots, should be a heated one, and perhaps one that will see frequent movement of players in and out of the XI. From a fantasy perspective, one name sticks out as a potentially attractive weapon – Mathias Jensen. He made 35 starts last season and was the most prolific chance-creator in midfield. He scored two goals and added seven assists in the previous campaign – not exactly jaw-dropping figures, but if you need to wedge a budget midfielder in your team, and the names on Brentford’s roster have you scratching your head, it is Jensen who offers the attacking threat. However, there is a player with even more promise and projected to have a brighter future – Josh Dasilva. Playing in nine less games than Jensen, mainly due to injury, Dasilva also played a part in nine goals, scoring five while assisting four. FPL sees Dasilva as the better option, pricing him .5m above Jensen. It is likely these two won’t start many matches together, rather, one would be playing alongside more defensive-minded midfielders while the other would serve as a bench weapon. Vitaly Janelt played more minutes in midfield than any other Bee last season and figures to be atop the depth chart for the more defensive-minded midfield slot.
We see it almost every season. A promoted side comes up and surprises everyone, exceeding all expectations, and having a ripple effect in fantasy with players who were once never talked about suddenly becoming the talk of the town. Anyone remember a fella by the name of John Lundstram a couple of years ago? We know there is plenty of confidence in Ivan Toney, so if there is one bandwagon to jump on early, it is his. Otherwise, there is no reason here, particularly in FPL, to try and guess which budget option emerges as good transfer target. The beauty of it is, if there is a Bee worth bringing in, it will be because they will far out-perform their price tag. So don’t worry if you have to wait a week or two to get on a bandwagon and that player’s price goes up .2-.3m. If that player is going to be a season-long bargain, you are still getting fantastic value.
FPL – Toney is clearly taking up the vast majority of fantasy talk when discussing Brentford. Nailed on and at a sweet price, if Brentford can show any competence while on the ball, he could be as underpriced as Patrick Bamford was last season. Much fluctuation could happen either way here. With his roster percentage already quite high, a slow start could see his price drop like a stone quickly. Conversely, if you plan to start the year without him and he starts hot, a large number of managers will have gotten the jump on you.
It’s a wait-and-see for other options, though if you have a hunch about Raya, then go for it, because the last thing you want to spend a transfer on, especially in the early weeks of the season, is the keeper position.
Draft – Prepare to reach for Toney in any draft format if you want him. Mbeumo is my personal diamond-in-the-rough pick if I wanted Toney and missed out. He should be available in the back half of your draft. If your league has plenty of counting stats for defenders, a late flyer on Ethan Pinnock could wind up being a savvy move. He led Brentford defenders in most key areas like clearances, blocked shots, aerial duels, etc. Otherwise, keep a watchlist of any undrafted starters.