The departure of Dean Smith to his beloved Aston Villa back in October left Brentford with a decision to make.
Since their return to the Championship in 2014, the club have excelled under their unorthodox yet innovate ‘Moneyball’ methodology, with a blueprint that allows for continuity regardless of personnel.
With this in mind, the club hierarchy passed on an external candidate fulfilling their vacancy, and instead turned to Smith’s assistant, the pensive Thomas Frank.
The initial perception around the appointment of the Dane was that it would be an astute selection.
Brentford’s continuity and structure has served them well, with the club failing to finish outside the top ten during their second-tier tenure, inclusive of a play-off campaign as well.
Frank had been working alongside Smith for two and a half years prior to his promotion to Head Coach, and was familiar with the players, the style of play and the strategy in place for the club to progress.
‘The Bees’ have built a reputation for being one of the Championships most enthusing, progressive teams with a thirst for pure, fluid football.
A clear identity has been instilled throughout the club prior to Frank’s arrival, throughout the senior team and the well-documented ‘B’ team as well.
However, the smooth transition which was expected for Frank soon developed into a rude awakening.
Frank oversaw an initial spell of turbulence in the hot-seat, with a record of just a solitary win from his first ten fixtures.
A strong start to the season fuelled whispers of Premier League aspirations, but a torrid run of form suddenly saw Griffin Park plunged into despair.
To be fair to Frank, prior to Smith’s departure, the Bees had gone five games without a win. But under his charge, results were proving even harder to come by.
Brentford were in a dangerous cycle of conceding poor goals, with a horrific 20 goals leaked in that ten-game spell.
A handful of games in a two-month spell should not define a manager’s future, but such a tormenting run would surely have had brows sweating in the Griffin Road boardroom.
Despite the alarming sequence of results, Frank remained defiant. Whilst he was clear that improvement had to come, he persevered with an air of tranquillity surrounding his management of the situation.
Putting his own stamp on proceedings, the Dane modified the system slightly to a fluid 3-4-3 formation in a bid to halt the Brentford slide.
Since just prior to Christmas, this adaptation has had the desired effect, with a contrasting record of a single defeat in ten league matches.
Since transitioning, the side has reverted back to the Brentford of old with some swash-buckling displays.
Despite their poor form, Brentford were still scoring goals and dominating possession, but the switch to a back three has given them a much sturdier foundation.
The trio of Yoann Barbet, and summer arrivals Ezri Konza and Julian Jeanvier have meshed to construct a new defensive backline.
This has led to a marked improvement in the Bees defensive returns, with a steadier defensive unit allowing the team to transition into attack with additional insurance behind them.
Until his recent injury, Rico Henry managed to put his prior injury hell in West London behind him with some exciting displays at wing-back, with the returning Moses Odubajo also establishing himself as key component with his versatility to cover either flank.
The recent conversion of Sergio Canos as another option at wing-back, is testament to both the players’ ability and the squad’s belief in their managers approach.
With the wing-backs providing the width, it allows Brentford’s front three the freedom to drift into pockets of space, effectively creating two completely free roles next to Neal Maupay leading the line.
The likes of Said Benrahma and Ollie Watkins have benefited from the creation of a fluid attacking motion which teams have struggled to cope with in recent weeks.
Since Frank made the alterations to the Bees tactical DNA, the figures involved in their matches have made for pleasant reading, even more so for a club who yield such an analytical approach.
Since hosting Norwich City on 1st January, Brentford have won five, drawn one and lost one, registering a rampant 20 goals from those seven fixtures.
The new system has allowed Brentford to continue to dominate possession, particularly in the opposition’s half.
The way Frank’s men attempt to dictate play in dangerous areas, trying to do damage to their opponents and not just idly play along their own backline, is what has set them apart from some divisional rivals in recent weeks.
The Bees have averaged 59.62% of possession over this run, controlling their opponents more often than not.
The lowest amount of shots they’ve had in a single game throughout this spell was 16 – a game where they converted a quarter of those chances in a 4-2 triumph at Rotherham.
The average amount of shots Brentford produced during those seven games is a staggering 20.57.
The attacking returns from Frank’s men are a perfect example of how effective the tweak in formation has been and has allowed them to climb to the safe haven of mid-table.
Defensively there is still perhaps work to be done, but with such an exhilarating, attacking brand of football, it is perhaps inevitable that a clean sheet mentality is likely to take a back-seat.
The worries of sliding into a relegation fight with the early form shown in his reign has very much been extinguished after Frank’s astute tactical diligence – there’s no doubt that Brentford’s ‘great’ Dane has helped the Bees rediscover their sting.
With Spring fast approaching, the season looks set to fade out into a non-event of sorts for Brentford.
There appears to be little prospect of a late play-off charge despite their current excellent form, although attempting to record yet another top ten finish seems a reasonable objective.
Tentative looks will turn towards next season, with the Brentford model signalling the probability of key playing personnel being sold on for profits.
The likes of the explosive Benrahma, the enigmatic Watkins and the irrepressible Maupay have all excelled under Frank – but will all be coveted come the summer.
The Bees’ blueprint, as it was with the Head Coach position, is laid out for such a situation and Frank will be mindful of his pivotal role in schooling the next batch of talented imports to build on the current revival, with a view to a more fruitful campaign next year.
The notable turnaround under Frank has shown his managerial credentials, and that the club’s long-term aim for Premier League football can be achieved under his watch.
His reserved, methodical approach has tactically transformed a team which now vividly bears his hallmark, a process which has impressed insiders at Griffin Park and neutrals alike.
Whilst recent performances and results have been excellent, there have been anomalies, the recent second half demolition by Swansea in the FA Cup a prime example, meaning there is still work to be done.
But, under their ‘great’ Dane, with a new stadium on the horizon and an innovative, proven methodology, the future is perhaps as bright as it’s ever been in TW8.