Brentford and the Kingdom of the second phase

If you watch Brentford’s goals this season in the Premier League, you’ll find that the majority of their goals either come directly from set pieces, from wing-back to wing-back crosses or from the second phase of set pieces. The last of these sources has been a major trend this season in the Premier League.

The threat of the wing-back to wing-back crosses has been there since Antonio Conte arrived in 2016. As for the set-pieces, the hiring of specialist coaches all over the Premier League only shows its importance. That coach — or another coach, if there isn’t a set piece specialist — would normally work on the second phase of the set pieces as well.

More and more teams in the league are being earmarked for their prowess from set pieces. But in the second phase of the set pieces, it feels like Brentford are slightly ahead. And perhaps there’s no one better suited to explain part of what they do in these second phases than Brentford’s manager himself, Thomas Frank.

In a Masterclass episode with The Coaches’ Voice, Frank goes over a lot of things, of which the most interesting is how they play out the second phase of the set pieces.

“We are very aware that we keep either the striker, Ivan Toney, to the side or one of the center backs drops to the side. Then, instead of start playing (short) because everyone is getting up. Then we play a long ball to the side, either side. But the side where we have the best mismatch.”

This was the theory behind Brentford’s first goal in the Premier League this season against Arsenal. After Arsenal cleared a Brentford corner kick, David Raya played a long ball towards the overloaded side of the pitch.….

……resulting in Ethan Pinnock winning the aerial ball with Vitaly Janelt shoulder barging into Granit Xhaka to stop him from jumping to contest the header. Out wide towards the touchline was Sergi Canos, who as per Frank’s ideas is in the right position to create an overload.

Pinnock’s header fell for Bryan Mbeumo who wanted to chip the ball over Ben White and into the path of Vitaly Janelt inside the box. but the ball was cleared by Xhaka. The flick on by Pinnock and Mbeumo’s run into the box forced Arsenal to drop deeper into the box, which meant that out wide Canos was free…..

……so that when Pinnock meets the cleared ball, he plays into the free Canos. The original overload created space for Canos to receive the ball freely, and score Brentford’s first in the Premier League.

This approach in the second phase of set pieces has been effective for Brentford this campaign. Against Chelsea, only Edouard Mendy stopped Brentford from earning a well deserved point. The avalanche of attacks in the second half made for an entertaining game to watch and Brentford’s second phase mastery was on show as well.

In this corner kick, you can spot Canos trying to disrupt Mendy.

However when the corner is being played, Canos walks backwards towards the far post while keeping an eye on the ball. Chelsea manage to clear the ball and now going into the second phase….

…..Canos is wide on the side and free of any marker. Rico Henry quickly heads the loose ball into Canos’ path…..

…..but the Spaniard’s hung up ball towards Mathias Jorgensen is cleared by Romelu Lukaku. From this position, Canos could have shot at goal as well.

Another second phase in this game after a Brentford free kick was cleared shows how Frank’s words are put into action. Here, as Sam Ghoddos is receiving the ball, Pinnock takes a couple of side-steps away from the Chelsea pack in the center.

He then looks over his shoulder to find Ben Chilwell and raises his arm calling for the ball. A mismatch just like his manager said.

Ghoddos hungs the ball up for Pinnock, away from the center of the box and towards the side. And no surprise here, Pinnock wins the header against Chilwell to set up Pontus Jansson for a clear strike on goal. Mendy however, was fast to react.

Another example is in the game against Liverpool. After a short thrown in was cleared by the Liverpool defence, Raya plays a long ball into the path of Canos.

The Spaniard wing-back who is highlighted in red here was positioned towards the touchline, and on the near side you can spot Christian Norgaard wide as well giving Raya two passing options as Liverpool’s block moved up the pitch.

Canos then manages to control the ball as Kristoffer Ajer (in red) calls for the pass. The interesting movement though is central. Jansson who is spear-heading Brentford’s line here and Mbeumo, both move towards the far post to create a mismatch.

Now, Norgaard who was originally wide, Mbeumo and Jansson make Trent Alexander-Arnold’s life a misery in this aerial duel. The first two try to win the ball as Jansson battles with Alexander-Arnold. Eventually, this second phase leads to the equalizer after Jansson hits the bar and the ball falls for Janelt in-front of a keeper-less net.

The last example where Brentford’s occupation of the wide areas, going direct and creating a mismatch have empowered their second phase of a set piece, was the latest victory at home to Watford.

In this play the focus will fall on Jansson. After the corner was cleared by Joshua King…..

……Brentford quickly regain possession, and Janelt who crossed the corner, keeps his position out wide to provide a passing option for Ghoddos. Meanwhile, on the other side Jansson moves out wide to be in the correct position. After Ghoddos plays the ball into Janelt….

…..Jansson moves further towards the far post and marking him is 5 ft. 9, Kiko Femenia. A mismatch. Janelt’s cross is then deflected by Marcus Forss towards the far post, and Jansson jumps in to head it into the net.

By having their center backs up and wide for the second phase of any set piece, Brentford might be susceptible to the counter. Frank, has a different idea.

“Someone will call us risky, but I think if you don’t take risk. You also take risk.”



English Football. United

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