We have partnered with Betfair and the Benjamin Bloom Football Channel on YouTube to cover the championship play-offs. Here Ben is previewing the final between Brentford and Swansea City at Wembley on Saturday at 3pm …
How they got here
The play-offs final is set and Brentford will play Swansea at Wembley this Saturday. Use whatever snap you like – ‘the greatest football game’, ‘the £ 170million game’ – but winning this game can completely change a club’s outlook for years to come when that final whistle will sound.
Brentford enjoyed a tumultuous return semi-final with Bournemouth last weekend. The Bees lost a total of two points five minutes into the game before they leveled quickly on the spot and, after Bournemouth fell to ten men, finding the other two goals needed to pass the Cherries.
Swansea was never late in their tie, a much more pragmatic case against Barnsley. The Swans were leading 1-0 in the second leg and when Matt Grimes put them two in total, despite a late push from Barnsley, Swansea was on his way to Wembley. It was 1-1 on the night and Steve Cooper takes his side a little further than last season, where they were eliminated in the semifinals. Who were Swansea’s conquerors at this point last season? Brentford, of course, who will be looking to do better this season.
Both managers left a trail of crumbs in the semi-finals to help us understand how they might approach the final. Both finalists experienced a major change of form in the regular season race and both managers started the semi-finals with their new system.
Swansea was excellent defensively in his 4-3-3 form. Freddie Woodman, Ben Cabango and Marc Guehi made a formidable goalkeeper and half-triangle and full-backs Jake Bidwell and Kyle Naughton would consider themselves unhappy not to start the final. But the big question was the presence on the bench of the excellent Connor Roberts, who stood out at right-back during the season. Cooper could sense the opportunity to put a more offensive threat with Brentford more open, but I repeat it would be hard for Naughton. In midfield, assuming everyone is in good shape, a trio of Grimes, Conor Hourihane and Jay Fulton will likely start, providing a bit of everything in the central zone.
Where we have guaranteed change in Swansea, it will be on the front lines. Andre Ayew and Jamal Lowe appear to be starting, but they were joined by veteran Wayne Routledge in the semi-final second leg, with Routledge sadly stretched out by what turned out to be an ACL injury. Cooper apparently has two picks as a direct trade in that central hitting point: Liam Cullen, who started the semi-final first leg; or Morgan Whittaker, the youngster who arrived from Derby at the start of the season.
There is, of course, another option. If Cooper wants the top 11 players on the pitch – which admittedly doesn’t always make the best team – he could go back to Roberts. Roberts ended the second leg as a sub somewhere between a midfielder and a winger as Swansea defended their lead and Cooper could move Ayew or Lowe to the center and deploy Roberts to the right. Some would then rightly say that the further back Roberts was, the closer Swansea would be to their previously abandoned 3-5-2 form. Would Cooper be tempted? I don’t think so, but some strange things have happened.
With Swansea’s situation seemingly boiling down to an ‘one or the other’ storyline, it feels a bit more fluid for Brentford. Like Cooper, Thomas Frank has faithfully started both games with his new 3-5-2 form, but there are a lot more moving parts when it comes to Brentford’s possible selection on Saturday. The first thing is the form: Christian Norgaard was injured in the warm-up before the second leg last Saturday and despite returning to the first leg as a sub, Rico Henry was also not fit to play.
If we assume the best case scenario for Brentford and these two players are available to start the final, then Frank has some big selection decisions to make. Again, assuming Frank will use the same 3-5-2 shape, here’s my take on what the team would look like. In goal David Raya will start, behind a back three containing Pontus Jansson and Ethan Pinnock. If Norgaard is in good shape, he would play in the middle of the three, with right winger Henrik Dalsgaard. If he’s fit, Rico Henry would be preferred at left-back. If Norgaard does not succeed, Dalsgaard plays central defender and right-back Roerslev. If Henry does not succeed, Sergi Canos would continue at left-back.
In midfield, Mathias Jensen and Vitaly Janelt appear likely to be two of Wembley’s three starters. The most attacking role was played by Emi Marcondes in the second leg against Bournemouth and he could be retained, but Tarique Fosu-Henry, Bryan Mbuemo, Saman Ghoddos and Sergi Canos could all fill the role of attacking midfielder. At the top, Ivan Toney is an obvious starter with Bryan Mbuemo, whose run forced the key slip and red card for Chris Mepham of Bournemouth, alongside Marcus Forss, who scored the game-winning goal to get the Bees through.
Despite all the uncertainty about fitness, I will expand to say that Frank will likely stick with 3-5-2 form and when availability permits experience will dictate the selections in these uncertain positions. remaining. What is certain is that if Dalsgaard and Henry are in good shape, there is enough quality in this Brentford side to present a very good team in the form Frank is diving for.
Key Battle – Ethan Pinnock vs. Andre Ayew
Ethan Pinnock arrived at Brentford from Barnsley two summers ago and quickly took over the left center-back, starting 73 league games and finishing third twice with the Bees. He gives balance as a left foot, not to mention a huge threat to attack set pieces., but there was a little air of nerves around him in the semi-final against Bournemouth. Twice in the second leg Bournemouth managed to easily pass him and in the first leg he was totally caught by David Brooks’ ball inside him which gave Philip Billing a big chance.
It’s obviously not meant to be a hit piece on Pinnock, but maybe he’s still learning the last three system and doesn’t particularly like the often wide open space outside of him. Brentford has always been open and attacking, but maybe covering that flank, especially with winger Canos rather than full-back Henry in front of him, may be something Pinnock and Brentford are still working on.
This is where it gets really interesting. Who will face Pinnock in the final? Ayew, widely recognized as Swansea’s go-to guy, best player and biggest offensive threat. In the first leg of the semi-final with Barnsley, Ayew found himself in an empty wing area to the right of Swansea. He engaged the left center-back, stepped inside and reeled the ball into the far corner.
With Pinnock relatively new in the role, you wouldn’t be surprised if Cooper will be looking for quick transitions and get Ayew v Pinnock one-on-one. We know Ayew has the class to make the most of these openings; Can Pinnock stand up to him on the big stage?
Brentford Fan View
So Brentford did it again. Our tenth attempt to shake our hapless play-off hoodoo. But realistically, what chance do we have of winning?
Last season we also overcame a 1-0 deficit in the first leg of the play-offs semi-finals to win the second leg and prepare for a final at Wembley with West London rival Fulham. After the euphoria of reaching the final, Brentford did not do himself justice, overthinking the game and approaching it with a certain caution that Fulham capitalized on.
Losing in such a cruel way would have really hurt the players. But looking at the bright side, they would have learned from that as well. And the experience of losing so cruelly on the big stage will be priceless this weekend.
Swansea Fan View
Wow, we did it. The play-off finals! One step closer than last year and just 90 minutes from Premier League football. What a fantastic turn of events for Swansea City in what has turned out to be a very difficult season. I have to say it was probably written in the stars that we had to face Brentford to get back to the Premier League; there’s definitely bad blood there and maybe some rematch to be had for last season.
I’m really interested to see how Cooper is preparing for this game; Do we stick to four at the back like we did against Barnsley or do we face Brentford and go three at the back with wingers? Personally, being a bit superstitious, I would like to see us play four in the back. I think we are defensively very strong with Naughton, Cabango, Guehi and Bidwell and I think that’s our best way to keep Ivan Toney quiet.
We know we can create goals from very little play due to how good some of our team members are, but it would be really nice to see us take control of the game from the start and show the world what the goals are. swans are capable. I have every confidence in our players to stay calm and collected and be able to take the pressure from Brentford and then take our chances when they come. Ayew, Hourihane, Grimes and Fulton will be the keys.
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