Premier League 2023-24 preview No 4: Brentford

<span>Photograph: Nick Potts/PA</span>” data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTcwMQ–/” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTcwMQ–/”></img></p>
<p><figcaption><span>Photograph: Nick Potts/PA</span></figcaption></p>
<p><strong>Guardian writers’ predicted position:</strong> 10th (NB: this is not necessarily Michael Butler’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)</p>
<p><strong>Last season’s position:</strong> 9th</p>
<p>What would count as a good season for Brentford? The dream, of course, is to “do a Brighton” and have a transformative year: to ace recruitment, coaching and performances in one swoop and qualify for Europe. Easier said than done. Optimists would, at the very least, like to see them improve upon last season’s ninth-placed finish. Realistically, though, with talisman Ivan Toney sidelined until January with a ban for gambling charges, a mid-table finish should probably be the aim. Pessimists would take survival.</p>
<p>It is easy to forget that this is just Brentford’s third season in the Premier League. The club has been in transition for a few years – from Championship to top tier, from Griffin Park to Gtech Community Stadium, from tiki-taka style to a more counterattacking high press – and a period of stability would do just fine. Keeping hold of Thomas Frank, who was linked with Spurs but recently spoke of moving “towards Brentford 2.0”, is key to that. Even if they revert to being less direct without Toney, they are unlikely to abandon the high press. Last season, no Premier League team scored more goals (nine) from high turnovers (40 metres or fewer from the opponents’ goal) than the Bees.</p>
<p><span>Related: </span>Nottingham Forest reject Brentford’s £35m offer for Brennan Johnson</p>
<p>Brentford have built their own data-driven recruitment system that they refuse to share with others, although the club hierarchy hate the “Moneyball” tag. From the outside, signings have been steady rather than spectacular. The arrival of Nathan Collins is a welcome one, and £11m looks excellent value for goalkeeper Mark Flekken. Any remaining funds for Frank – the manager has the final say on all incomings – depend on the future of David Raya, with the Spaniard’s £40m price tag currently proving a sticking point for suitors such as Arsenal and Bayern Munich.</p>
<h2>The manager</h2>
<p><strong>Thomas Frank</strong> has always lived up to his name with honest post-match interviews, and the follically-blessed 49-year-old is both a blue-sky thinker and data nerd, traits that have come to define Brentford as a club. After playing a tiki-taka style coaching Danish national youth teams and Brentford in the Championship, Frank has adopted a different approach in the two Premier League seasons to date. Only Liverpool (1,152) and Manchester City (1,078) played more accurate long balls than the Bees (1,009) last season and no team won more aerial duels, while only Liverpool scored more than Brentford’s 16 goals from set pieces. Will their style change again without Toney?</p>
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Brentford manager Thomas Frank carrying a tactics board at half-time during a friendly match against Boreham Wood. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

Leading the shirt sales

He remains a very popular figure and Ivan Toney will be a difficult man to replace on the pitch (and in the club shop) until the end of his ban in January 2024. Bryan Mbeumo and Kevin Schade are wide forwards rather than traditional No 9s, but both have the opportunity to cement their place as the Bees’ main man up top and as new crowd favourites. Much is expected of Schade after Brentford broke their club record (since broken again by Nathan Collins) to sign the Germany international permanently from Freiburg. Another contender is Christian Nørgaard, who has just been made club captain after the departure of Pontus Jansson.

Folk hero

Can you be classified as a folk hero after one season? In Ben Mee’s case, yes you can. The defender’s brave defending, progressive passing and occasional acrobatic goalscoring exploits won him rave reviews among the fans, as well as last season’s supporters’ player of the year award. While his chant – “MEEEEEEEE” – isn’t the most original, it is a sign of how highly he is regarded in west London. Hindsight is everything but it seems remarkable that Brentford were the only team willing to offer him a two-year deal last summer. To highlight his importance, Mee missed just one game last season, a 4-0 defeat at Aston Villa.


One to watch

Romeo Beckham, son of David, may have made the headlines after joining Brentford’s B team from Inter Miami this summer, but another new addition has a better shot of breaking into the first XI. Kim Ji-soo, a South Korean centre-back who made the team of the tournament at the recent Under-20 World Cup, looks a snip at around £500,000 after signing from K League Two side Seongnam. The 18-year-old was also tracked by Sporting and Bayern Munich – who have just spent £43m on Kim Min-jae, another South Korean centre-back.

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