Think Brentford are your favourite second team? Wait until you play them. Why adaptable Bees are thriving

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

As a manager in the Championship, Thomas Frank was not always thrilled by the arrival of the international break.

With his team pushing for promotion, a fortnight off carried more concern about lost momentum than relief at the chance to reset and Brentford had what was, for the division, an unusually cosmopolitan young squad.

Key players would jet off to represent their countries at age-group or senior level, leaving Frank a more depleted group to work with on the training ground than many of his rivals, and more weary legs by the time they returned.

Something tells you that now, eight weeks into his new life as a Premier League boss, the Dane may enjoy this opportunity to take stock more.

Seven games, three wins, three draws and a solitary, last-minute defeat have brought 12 points and a like-ducks-to-water ease to Brentford’s first top-flight campaign since 1947.

Frank’s men have gone toe-to-toe with Liverpool, beaten Arsenal and West Ham and climbed to seventh in the Premier League table, despite not yet having had the luxury of facing any of the bottom six.

Among that group of strugglers are Watford and Norwich, two clubs who finished above Brentford last season.

Yet, as the west Londoners head into the break celebrating victory away to West Ham, Watford have already sacked the man who got them promoted and the Canaries are clinging to a goalless draw against Burnley as their only ‘positive’ result of the campaign.

So, how has Frank got it so right? Certainly, there seems to be some truth in the idea that the Bees were almost overly ready for the Premier League; that in footballing terms they had outgrown the Championship, but that, after the hat-trick of near-misses at the end of the 2019-20 season, the final barrier had become a psychological one. Like Leeds a season earlier — though to a lesser extent and for very different reasons — once they cleared it, they were always likely to explode.

The make-up of Frank’s teams in these early weeks lends substance to that theory, as do the profiles of some of the players who have become the Premier League’s newest stars.

In David Raya, for instance, Brentford already had, in the second tier, a goalkeeper of top-flight class, whose skillset reflects the way the position has been trending at elite level over the past decade, his distribution so key to bypassing Liverpool’s intense press.

Bryan Mbuemo is a young forward who, after a superb debut campaign, struggled at times in his second season in English football, but his assets have been seen to better effect terrorising Premier League defences on the counter-attack than they were trying to break down deep Championship back lines.

Kristoffer Ajer has made a superb start since arriving from Celtic and fellow new-boy Yoane Wissa has scored crucial goals off the bench in each of the last two games. In the main, though, this is the same team that earned promotion, the likes of Ethan Pinnock, Vitaly Janelt, Rico Henry and, of course, Ivan Toney, earning rave reviews.

Or rather, the same personnel, for there is an adaptability about this Brentford side that does not seem to exist in, say, Norwich’s case, and a canniness that belies their inexperience at this level. At times, the football has been glorious, but against Liverpool they were direct and against West Ham they stole all three points with the final kick after four added minutes that owed much to the visitors’ time-wasting.

Think they’re your ‘favourite second team’? Wait until you play them.

Chelsea have that honour next on the other side of the international break, facing a trip to a stadium that is already becoming a fortress, the transition from the much-loved but outdated Griffin Park eased by the enthralling novelty of Premier League football and the desperate longing for shared moments of euphoria brought on by the pandemic.

In the meantime, Frank can sit back with his oft-mentioned glass of red and reflect on a start - and it is only a start - that could not have gone much better.

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Ivan Toney sets the tone for Brentford as Bees are rewarded for bravery against West Ham

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