After a relatively stress-free pre-season, Brentford go into Sunday’s Premier League opener at Leicester brimming with confidence and with a far stronger squad than last season. That is no small achievement given that they have lost their creative spark, Christian Eriksen. Thomas Frank, though disappointed to have lost his compatriot, is looking ahead. “We had a good team before Eriksen and we still have a good team,” he said.
Eriksen’s impact after his January arrival was striking but it is lazy to suggest he kept the team up on his own and that perception has angered many fans. Frank is adamant some of his other midfielders can step up.
“It’ll be a team effort but there will be some midfielders that can have a great season,” he says. “It can be [Mathias] Jensen, [Josh] Dasilva and [Vitaly] Janelt – all three of them. Josh is coming back, so let’s see who’s going to be flourishing and performing.”
Eriksen’s signing coincided with the return of the goalkeeper David Raya, who was missed badly after sustaining a knee injury in late October, and on Friday Frank highlighted the Spaniard’s importance, as well as that of Ivan Toney and Rico Henry, in response to claims that Eriksen kept Brentford up.
Raya was complimented for his distribution in last season’s 3-3 draw with Liverpool by Jürgen Klopp, who said the goalkeeper “should have No 10 on his back”. Raya kept three clean sheets in his first seven league games and the defence suffered without him.
His replacements, Álvaro Fernández and Jonas Lössl, blew hot and cold, with Fernández keeping one clean sheet in 12 league games. Both have departed and Brentford have upgraded by signing Thomas Strakosha after his Lazio contract expired. The Albania international played every minute of Lazio’s Europa League campaign last season and was a regular in side from December, replacing the former Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina.
Brentford have recruited shrewdly in other positions and are close to adding Sampdoria’s Mikkel Damsgaard as Eriksen’s replacement. The 22-year-old Dane is also able to operate out wide. Asked about Damsgaard and further incomings, Frank said: “I’d love to discuss the players we have in-house as you guys know. I guess that’s a simple question. I am overall satisfied with the squad. I think we have two players in every position in defence, midfield and attack.”
Aaron Hickey has arrived from Bologna for about £14m and will fill the right-back slot that needed addressing, though he can play at left-back. Keane Lewis-Potter has joined from Hull and is expected to challenge the fan favourite Yoane Wissa for the place on the left of a front three.
Ben Mee is another sensible signing on a free transfer after he left relegated Burnley. The centre-half looked assured against Real Betis in last weekend’s friendly and will partner Pontus Jansson for the time being, with Ethan Pinnock missing the first part of the season.
Brentford secured a deserved 1-0 win over Betis, who have qualified for the Europa League. Betis, managed by Manuel Pellegrini and with a lineup containing Claudio Bravo, William Carvalho, Nabil Fekir and the striker Willian José, were made to look ordinary and Brentford would have had more goals if not for some erratic finishing.
Brentford supporters will sense an opportunity in the opening fixtures. After Leicester the club welcome Manchester United – and Eriksen – and make a short trip to Fulham for the sides’ first top-flight meeting. Everton at home and another derby at Crystal Palace completes a hectic August.
“We’re just really looking forward to starting on Sunday, to start the circus again,” said Frank. “I haven’t marked [that] then we’re playing United. We’re fully focused on Leicester. It is the best league in the world and it’s a big privilege to be part of that.”