Norwich visit Griffin Park on Saturday to face a consistent and organised Brentford side. Jon Punt spoke to @Beesotted’s @TheCondorman to get the lowdown.
Norwich Jon: From potential relegation contenders to strong play-off contenders, your turnaround in form has been remarkable this term. I have to say as much as Norwich didn't really turn up at Carrow Road when we played you last, the Bees appeared to be a proper unit of players. From an outsider looking in this mainly appears to be based around the fact Brentford have a highly disciplined and organised approach to playing their football, interspersed with the odd player who has real quality. Is that a fair assessment?
Brentford Jon: To be honest we never really thought of ourselves as relegation contenders – we had been playing well but not taking the points (we battered Bristol City and Derby at Griffin Park for example but drew with both) so our current league position is probably more reflective of our abilities. The good thing about Brentford is that our owner Matthew Benham doesn’t panic about these things either, he understands the role of luck in football for example, particularly as it’s such a low scoring game. We run a lot of data and analytics behind the scenes and presumably these had been pretty positive.
We’ve been playing a pretty settled team over the last few games, partly due to injuries, and the fruits of this can now be seen as the players on the pitch have grown a better understanding of each other’s game. For example our CB pairing of Danish international Andrea Bjelland and youngster Chris Mepham looks as impressive as anything we’ve had over recent years. Lasse Vibe is back among the goals too, which obviously helps. The difficulty now is trying to fit in those players who are returning from injury – Alan Judge as an example – when the team are playing so well.
As a squad this is probably the best I can remember at Brentford and we’ve won 5 of the last 6 games (the only loss was away at Wolves who eventually beat us through sheer quality) despite both first choice full backs being injured. We’ve got good team unity and some real quality to add still – for example the talismanic Sergi Canos has been largely on the bench recently due to the form of Watkins and Josefzoon. We’ve also added a player called Emiliano Marcondes to the squad who we expect great things from – apparently he takes a great free kick. Obviously we’ve still got the January window to get through – and we could easily lose a couple of players yet – but a top ten finish and possibly a play off push certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to most Bees fans
You mention the window, Norwich have already seen our finest talent in the shape of former Brentford man Alex Pritchard depart for pastures new. He was a player of real star quality and had he been fit for the entirety of the season I think we'd be much closer to the top 6. Who are you most worried about losing in the next couple of weeks?
This window our main worry is probably Ryan Woods – the press have touted potential moves to Birmingham or Villa and both can probably offer higher salaries than ourselves (although Brum might also offer relegation potential). Woods is quite often noted as a stand out performer by opposition fans – the good news is that we certainly won’t sell him on the cheap, and central midfield is an area where we are quite well covered.
The two Danes, Bjelland and Vibe, are both out of contract in the summer so again could move on if the price is right, although with a potential World Cup place to play for they might stay put and see where we end up at the end of the season.
It’s hard as a fan to see our best players depart, but it’s also part of our model – we sell if our valuations on a player are met (see Andre Gray, Scott Hogan, James Tarkowski, Jota etc for details). Fortunately we’ve had a recent good history of replacing them well. I can already see players such as Ollie Watkins, Chris Mepham and Romaine Sawyers moving on to the Prem at some point – but all will net big transfer fees. And who knows they might yet make it there with us.
Interesting you highlight Ollie Watkins, I've always really liked the look of him when I've seen him. Let's do a deal right now, £2m and we'll loan him back for the season, yeah? Ok, thought not.
As you mention, the model at Brentford is to sell when the valuation is met. Given the project, and I'd argue it’s a real success in sustaining you in the Championship, how far do you think you can go? Could progression see consolidation into the top tier sometime in the next 5 to 10 years?
Ha yes – Ollie’s definitely a player that catches the eye. We might swap him for £2m plus James Maddison…… I suspect both will end up in the top flight within a couple of years.
I would like to think we’ve cracked “staying in the championship” these days – our stated aim is definitely to get to the Premiership. I think we will always struggle with the issues of wages paid by competitors and agents unsettling their players unfortunately, but our owner will definitely be modelling our estimate chances of a) the playoffs and b) promotion at all times. If these stars align in January then we will go for it – this was allegedly part of the fall out with Mark Warburton three years ago – we were outperforming our form and our owner wanted to bring in players to address a couple of weaknesses whilst Warburton wanted to stick with the squad that had got him so far.
Keep your hands off Maddison - unless you have a spare £25m!
That's sad to hear, really felt like Warburton was a great fit for Brentford and would have been interesting to see how far he could have taken you.
So famously you still have the standing terracing in place at Griffin Park, something which Norwich fans traditionally look forward to. What's the long term future for the terraces at your place? In a strange way does that help with generating atmosphere for opposing fans, meaning you're at a slight disadvantage to other grounds?
Away supporters often visit our ground for two reasons – terraces and the fact that we have a pub on every corner. We’ve got a new ground being built half a mile up the road and Beesotted have already spoken to the club about wanting to investigate the opportunity for safe standing/adaptable seating as and when the opportunity arrives in England. If terraces help generate an atmosphere in the ground then that’s a good thing regardless of who is making the noise – noisy opponents can sometimes spark our own fans into life if there’s not a lot going on the pitch.
It will be a sad day for us to leave Griffin Park – it’s a really special place particularly for evening games under the floodlights – so it’s really important that our new ground retains some personality and allows supporters to create an atmosphere. We are not all lucky enough to have Delia Smith bellowing into a microphone on the pitch in order to galvanise our support…
My bad, I had read somewhere you were moving and I’ve obviously erased it from my memory.
Errr, yeah, Delia isn’t exactly galvanising our support right now. Some would say she’s dividing it. The usual arguments, she’s not investing enough money, we need to sell and bring in fresh investment. I’m a fan, but I get the logic, football has changed. Money talks.
Turning to Saturday, it’s likely Norwich will play a back three, supported by wing backs and more traditional central midfielders anchoring an attacking three. How are we likely to see the Bees line up?
We play a fluid system but it’s basically a back four, midfield triangle (normally with Sawyers at the point) and then two wider players supporting the Number 9 – it will be their job to get behind your back line. Our full backs are encouraged to get forward as much as possible but are arguably slightly less gung ho currently than we have been at times. We try and play the ball out from the back, as do a lot of teams at this level these days.
Interesting – we’ll definitely be placing a premium on keeping the ball at the back and looking to go through the thirds as soon as you try and press us. It’s a system which has had a lot more joy away from home, primarily due to the fact sides look to be more expansive at their own place.
Predictions for Saturday then? I’m thinking a standard Norwich 1-0 away from home, provided we can keep Vibe quiet, which we struggled with at Carrow Road. You?
I personally think that Norwich are underperforming vs their abilities overall so am expecting a tough game. We rarely lose at home so I suspect this one might be a 1-1 draw although we might have the attacking subs to turn this into a 2-1 home win. May football be the winner!
While you're here. Two things; first, did you know we have a new podcast? It's available via iTunes and Soundcloud. Alternatively you can just listen to it in your browser via our podcast page. Club legend Bryan Gunn was our recent guest as we debated the latest talking points regarding NCFC.
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