Fifteenth in the table and only three points off the drop. It’s early days but if Brentford lose to Burnley at the weekend, Thomas Frank’s side could unknowingly find themselves in a relegation fight.
It is a sign of the high expectations that Frank has set that a side promoted in 2021 languishing just above the relegation zone is a topic even worth discussing. For other sides, it is an inevitable battle. For Brentford, it wasn’t even considered in pre-season.
The only questions was over how they would do without Ivan Toney, suspended for eight months in May for breaching betting rules. Instead of signing a temporary replacement, Frank decided to stick with what he had.
Bryan Mbeumo to be specific.
Aided by Yoane Wissa and Neil Maupay as backup, Mbeumo was to be the main man. And main man he was, for a short period… netting four goals in the first four games of the season, his conversion from winger to striker appeared to be another Frank masterpiece.
Previously, the German had molded Ollie Watkins into the No. 9 role he now excels in at Aston Villa. After the departure of first choice forward Maupay in 2019, Frank ingeniously put Watkins up front. A decision that resulted in 25 goals and Brentford’s first promotion push, narrowly missing out in the playoff finals.
Mbeumo: Brentford’s new No. 9?
It is a transition he sees in Mbeumo. Before their 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace, Frank stated, “When you work with a player for four years and look back you really see his improvement in terms of being a better finisher.”
A finisher on the level of Toney? Not quite.
It is a hard standard to match up to. Since those opening four games, Mbeumo has failed to score. The side itself is only managing 3 goals since, going from an average of 2 goals per game to 0.75.
Much has been made of Opta’s release of an alternative XG Premier League table this week. In it, Brentford sit 8th with 13.01 points, six more than their current total. They have scored three less than expected.
A sign that Mbeumo may not have the conversion abilities of Toney to put away these chances?
But turn away from the complicated realities of modern statistics and Brentford’s current struggles have an age-old cause: Loss of form. Loss of form and an injury pile up.
The start of Brentford’s season appeared fruitful. Six points from four games, unbeaten and continuing in the vein of last season. Now, they sit winless in their last six, having dropped points from winning positions in six out of their eight games.
Since losing to Newcastle in September, they have been without left back Rico Lewis and left winger Kevin Schade, both suffering long-term injuries. It is a growing list in Brentford’s medical department. Ben Mee, Josh Dasilva and Shandon Baptiste all in and out on a semi-regular basis.
Brentford’s missing parts
But it is Lewis and Schade’s injuries that have proved crucial, leaving the team without the entirety of their first-choice left-flank. Schade and Lewis had quickly developed an impressive partnership in support of Mbeumo and Wissa up front. Now they are out until January and June respectively.
To make matters worse, Schade’s possible replacements in both Keene Lewis-Potter and Mikkel Damsgaard are injured too, albeit on a more temporary basis.
This decimation of their options on the left-hand side has coincided with Mbeumo and Brentford’s downturn in form. It may not be life without Toney that Brentford are struggling to deal with but, a lack of consistent service for his replacement — Mbeumo’s own XG dipping since the injuries.
Injury lists are part of the nature of football. Outside of the top sides with large squads, it is always a challenge to deal with. Yet, if there was any manager or club to find ingenious solutions, it is Frank and Brentford.
“When it rains it pours, there’s a little bit of a challenge but we are up for the challenge, the boys are performing very well and we’ll get out of this,” Frank said in his post-match conference after their 2-1 defeat to Man United.
Their narrow defeat to United, due to an injury time double from Scott McTominay, is a sign of hope for success despite the increasing injuries. How much that game can truly tell you though, with the current state of the Red Devils, is anyone’s guess.
Many will be rooting for Brentford to return to their best. Let’s just hope they won’t be waiting until Toney’s return in January.