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Brentford (a) – Sat 2nd Jan 15:00 – What Can We Expect?

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Brentford (a) – Sat 2nd Jan 15:00 – What Can We Expect?

As its 2021, a new year and all that, I thought I’d deviate away from my usual plan and focus on Bristol City instead.  We all know about Brentford, their 4231 / 433, Thomas Frank, Ivan Toney etc, their lovely brand of passing football, etc, so why try to rewrite that.  So, this time it’s about us – Bristol City!

How do we line-up?

At the start of the season, it was clear, it was all about the 352, and an unconventional “6 and two 8s” in midfield with an unlikely pairing of Andi Weimann and Jamie Paterson.  Despite regular pre-game comments of “that midfield will get over-run” or “those two can’t play in midfield” it was successful as Holden’s encouraging caretaker spell was turned into a perfect four-game winning start to the season.  It contributed energy, structure as well goals and assists.


Pic 1 - City v Stoke (a) earlier this season [Wyscout]

City fans could pick the same line-up and see encouraging signs from young players like Taylor Moore and Zak Vyner, whilst waiting for the imminent return of captain Tomas Kalas, the rotation of Hunt and Rowe with Sessegnon and Dasilva.  There would surely be more to come when summer signing Joe Williams recovers from his thigh injury to boost the midfield and the return of Liam Walsh (quad) adds further competition.  Not forgetting last season’s top scorer Famara Diedhiou fighting for his place too. 

If I was writing this in September, I’d be using the term “Holdenball”, albeit with tongue firmly in cheek!  Fast forward to the end of December! 

Williams and Walsh still haven’t made it back.  Although there is hope Walsh might be back in February, Williams is looking unlikely to feature at all this season.  Mawson (knee) has been out since October, Sessegnon (hamstring) likewise, although both nearing a return.  Weimann has done his ACL and is out for the season, Bakinson has had Covid, whilst Paterson (hip) Brunt (calf) and O’Dowda (hamstring) have been out too, all three without a return date.  I almost forgot; Nathan Baker has been out since August’s pre-season friendly with Villa. 

City are running on bare bones! 


Pic 2 - City v Luton (a) this week [Wyscout]

Whilst the starting eleven isn’t weak in itself, there has been little chance to rotate and rest any players, and the subs bench contains several players who have yet to taste first team action (Towler, Zac Smith and Sam Pearson).  Sam Bell (son of Mickey) and Opi Edwards have less than 45 minutes between them.

You’ll also notice that it is no longer 352, but 442, with Massengo playing out of position.  This morphed initially to 433 (after a 20-minute salvo with this formation sparked a mini winning run), before becoming 442 as Holden tried to find the right combination.  Personally, I’m surprised he hasn’t gone back to 352. The changes have felt a bit knee-jerk and more a case of shoe-horning players in, rather than following the principles he talked about pre-season. 

How do we play?

Without being too blunt, we are not playing well at all and it’s difficult to identify much of a pattern / style.  Many fans suggesting it’s no different to last season under Lee Johnson, whilst accepting the injury situation is not helping.  It certainly is different to early season, where City’s possession-based style, although not free-flowing, was structured, had purpose and looked solid.  Currently we are anything but those things.  There doesn’t appear to be much method to our play and defensive mistakes have more than crept in. 

Defensive set-pieces: 

We have started to concede too regularly from opposition set pieces.  Rotherham (a), QPR (a), Barnsley (a) along with Tuesday’s defeat to Luton.


Pic 3 - City man-mark at a corner v Luton

We can see that Luton attack as a group and then all run in different directions as the cross comes over.  Glen Rea (16) is positioned behind one of his teammates Matt Pearson (6) meaning his marker is going to find it difficult to track him


Pic 4 - Rea gets free to volley home

In these scenarios Rea (16) is either free to run towards the near post or in this case peel to the back-post.  In fairness to Tomas Kalas, he is half-marking his initial opponent but realises Rea is unmarked.  Unfortunately, he gets under the ball, misses his header, and Rea volleys into the net.  We are not successfully tracking runners, especially with balls whipped into the 6-yard box.

Mind the gap! 

Over recent games, whether through lack of confidence or trying to sit in and soak up opposition possession City have got deeper and deeper and created a huge gap between defence and attack.  Kalas is blessed with good pace and could play a much higher line but seems happy to drop off. 


Pic 5 - Alan Browne clears for Preston

In this example, Preston’s Alan Browne (8) clears on the edge of his box.  With only Maguire left up front you’d expect City to deal with him quite easily.


Pic 6 - Maguire outmuscles Vyner

But we see that Vyner (on the ground) is barged off the ball in the aerial challenge and Kalas is still some 15 yards inside in own half.  That’s well over 50 yards away from Browne’s clearance.  He recovers the ball from Maguire, but it leaves huge spaces for City’s midfield to cover, and Preston passed the ball around and through our midfield at ease. 


Pic 7 - Kalas deep again

In the same game we can see Kalas drop deep again, but this time he isn’t the spare man.  City’s shape is all over the place, and you can see too many players caught forward.  Against Luton on Tuesday, City got exposed on the break far too often. 

In terms of our opponents, Brentford, here’s an example of their defensive set up versus Norwich.



Even against a team with threats in behind like Teemu Pukki, Pinnock and Jansson are happy playing a high line because they know their midfield will pressure the passer too, making an incisive through ball more difficult.   


Pic 9 - more poor defensive shape v Luton

The example above occurs from City having possession but a sloppy pass from Bakinson (30) leaves Luton’s forwards a chance to pinch the ball and create an opportunity.  Cornick races onto the ball ahead of Kalas, feeds Collins, who under pressure from Vyner (out of picture bottom left) who makes a great recovery, forces Bentley into a great save.  Again, look how few City players are in good positions, having over-committed to runs forward despite Bakinson receive a header from Vyner facing his own goal.  City are too eager to commit runs forward without established possession.  In some respects, it fell likes players are hiding in positions where it’s difficult to receive the ball.  The 442 transitions into a form of 244 far too quickly and any attempts to keep the ball or take the sting out of games becomes impossible.

Deep equals deflections!

One of the symptoms of setting deeper defensive positions is deflected shots.  Earlier this season City were happy to block long distance shots on the edge or outside the box.  Of late City have been retreating deeper into their box and guess what?  Yes, you’ve guessed it…we have started to see shots deflected past a stranded Dan Bentley in goal. 


Pic 10 - McCleary shoots hopefully towards goal (Wycombe)

Against Wycombe last Saturday, their only shot on target led to a goal.  McCleary (19) takes an ambitious shot, but Adrian Mariappa deflects it into the goal.  Look how many City defenders are in the box.  The same happened versus Millwall and Reading too. 

Straight lines: 

City have found it difficult in recent games to break through well-positioned defences.  Opponents have been happy to sit in two banks of players and ask City to break them down.  It isn’t as if City have passed and passed but just not created, often they’ve turned over possession far too quickly, showing impatience with the killer ball.  Sometimes you’ve got to tease it out of the opposition even if that means going side to side. 


Pic 11 - Preston give Adam Nagy no pass forward

As Adam Nagy receives a ball from Tyreeq Bakinson, we can see Preston’s “low-block” (Gallagher and Browne inside the triangle) easily stop any passes that could attempt to break the lines.  Johnson closes Nagy and he is forced further sideways, running away from City’s forwards.  Having switched to 442 at half-time we can see Callum O’Dowda (now playing at a winger), Nahki Wells and Antoine Semenyo just standing in a line offering no option at all.   

Contrast this to Norwich in Pic 8 (above) whose four attackers (yellow square) are close to each other, trying to find pockets of space, not strung across the pitch like ours! 


Pic 12 - City easily kept away from danger v Preston

A different example this time with Tommy Rowe (LWB) on the ball.  City were still playing 352 at this point, and Chris Martin has pulled into the left-wing position.  Massengo (42) is trying to support but is not really free to receive a pass.  So, it’s either pass it to Martin who has nowhere to go but go straight back to Rowe, or Rowe come back and inside to Nagy (4).  That would actually be fine, because Nagy could open it out to Hunt (RWB), but having decided to play it into Martin, Preston press the ball and City get away with it as Martin passes to Massengo who is fortunately fouled with nowhere to go. 

A bit of quality: 

Although by no means well-structured, City do have players who can make things happen. 


Pic 13 - O'Dowda left isolated v Wycombe

Above we see that Callum O’Dowda has received a ball down the line from Tommy Rowe.  He’s sucked Jack Grimmer (RB) in tight as Grimmer sees that Callum has no passing options available (triangle) and he hopes to pressure him into losing the ball.  Again, we see a City forward line looking flat, although Wells’s unselfish run in behind O’Dowda takes Josh Knight away from the centre, which helps as the play progresses.  O’Dowda’s touch is good and feeling Grimmer getting too tight, he rolls inside, away from the Wycombe right-back and sets up Martin who shoots over.  Without the successful dribble O’Dowda would be left isolated. 


Pic 14 - Semenyo with the slide-rule pass v Luton

Having been critical of City’s forwards playing in a flat line, this time we see Semenyo (18) against Luton roam from his right-wing position and create the extra man in midfield.  He plays a beautiful pass inside the full-back for Wells (now playing left-wing) to run onto. 


Pic 15 - Wells crosses for the equaliser

Wells doesn’t have to break his stride before sliding a lovely cross into the 6-yard box for Chris Martin to score, but Sonny Bradley beats him to it on the slide and puts it into his own net for City’s leveller on the night. 

So, what do we do differently? 

For me, two main things.  Firstly, we much play a higher line and condense the space between defence and attack.  If not, Brentford will just pass the ball around and through us and our midfield especially will be left chasing shadows.  Secondly, I’m not one for formations being the be-all and end-all, but I think we would be better going back to 352.  We don’t have much choice in personnel, but we don’t have to shoehorn players into unfamiliar positions in a 352, plus it was what Holden spent pre-season drilling.  The condensed fixture schedule and a Covid outbreak during the last international break has left him and the squad little time to work on new systems.  Back to basics please, Dean!

City’s possible line-up: 

As above, assuming a 352, here’s what I would go with if I were in Dean Holden’s shoes (and Chinos):


With Jack Hunt having to come off on Tuesday due to re-opening a gash on his ankle, I see little point in risking aggravating that further.  So, the versatile and athletic Zak Vyner moves across to RWB.  Taylor Moore has played his best stuff for us at the central CB, so he comes back in allowing Tomas Kalas or Adrian Mariappa to play either side.  Personally, I would play Kalas right and Mariappa left. 

In midfield, the only 3 fit senior midfielders get the gig.  Bakinson and Nagy have looked a bit lost playing as a two side-by-side and it appears neither is sure of the other’s role, in terms of who’s screening the centre-backs and who’s supporting the attack.  So, I’m going back to basics, Bakinson back to his early season DM role, with the energetic Nagy and Massengo ahead of him. 

Up top, I’d gamble that Diedhiou can last 45-55 minutes and start him alongside Wells.  A partnership that has only spent 209 minutes (just over 2 games) on the pitch together all season, but has yielded 2 goals for Diedhiou, 1 for Wells, but 5 also team goals.  Diedhiou gives us a long ball outlet if Brentford have the lion’s share of possession.

On the bench:

Max O’Leary | Jack Hunt (if fit) | Ryley Towler | Zac Smith | Chris Martin | Antoine Semenyo | Sam Bell | Sam Pearson | Opi Edwards (if fit) 

I’m not sure if City have another player in the training bubble to make up a full 9 subs if Hunt or Edwards don’t make it. 


Unfortunately, I don’t see any New Year Cheer, as Brentford would be a tough nut to crack even with a full-strength City line-up.  The Bees are in form too.

Brentford 2 : 0 Bristol City

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Shame we can’t go to this one seeing they have a new ground. Even though I expect a defeat. As for the line up I’m hoping Hunt is fit and Vyner next to Kalas . As I feel Ivan Toney will be to hot to handle for Taylor Moore. Probably to hot for any of our defenders in fairness. 

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As there is a lot of optimism around 2021 being better I'm going to predict that for us that will start tomorrow with a result that nobody saw coming 1-2, I mean other teams have been doing it to us lately so why not. (avalanche of reasons incoming).

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On paper can’t see anything other than a defeat, possibly by three or four.

I would play 4-1-4-1, sharing the 1 between Fam, Wells and Martin. Play Vyner as a defensive midfielder in front of the four.

Crowd the midfield, and let Brentford have the ball (which they will anyway) up to our last third.

Play for a clean sheet and see what happens, we simply don’t have the attacking flair to take the game to them.


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Just now, markcarter said:

The point about our defensive shape leading to the recent spate of defected goals is blindingly obvious.  So the most worrying thing recently was Holden describing Wycombe’s goal as ‘an unlucky deflected goal’, as if it were just pure bad luck from nowhere.  This is incredibly concerning as, if he hasn’t spotted that tendency, what else hasn’t he spotted and what does it tell us about his overall tactical awareness and nous?

Even I’ve become worried about the obvious things missed of late.  Mine is only a fans view, and I write this for pleasure (well, you know what I mean), but there are some things that I hear the pundits on Sky say about City, or Tinnion, Owers, Gilmartin say about the opposition that are exactly what I’ve written, so if an amateur can see stuff, what are the pros doing?

Interesting in the summer the performance and opposition analysts were let go....and roles consumed by the Recruitment team!

Interesting also that we’ve gone from 352 where Holden said other teams changed to matched us, to doing the complete opposite.

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37 minutes ago, Davefevs said:

Unfortunately, I don’t see any New Year Cheer, as Brentford would be a tough nut to crack even with a full-strength City line-up.  The Bees are in form too.

Brentford 2 : 0 Bristol City

We're a poor team atm and I fear an embarrassing drubbing if Brentford are on even reasonable form.

I'll be pleasantly surprised if they score less than 3!

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If Jack Hunt doesn't play then who's going to bundle Canos over the hoardings?

But seriously, as we all know we're in a dreadful run of crap whilst Brentford are into top gear after a slow start and are now flying. It's a deserved flight as well, there's no luck involved. I suspect we'll see a Toney penalty and at least one other goal.

23 Brentford shots to our 7 is likely as well. If Bentley has a stormer it should stay respectable. Dave's 2-0 is probably what I'd go for as well.

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31 minutes ago, Davefevs said:

Even I’ve become worried about the obvious things missed of late.  Mine is only a fans view, and I write this for pleasure (well, you know what I mean), but there are some things that I hear the pundits on Sky say about City, or Tinnion, Owers, Gilmartin say about the opposition that are exactly what I’ve written, so if an amateur can see stuff, what are the pros doing?

Interesting in the summer the performance and opposition analysts were let go....and roles consumed by the Recruitment team!

Interesting also that we’ve gone from 352 where Holden said other teams changed to matched us, to doing the complete opposite.

Great stuff as usual Dave, which leaves me with even less confidence in our coaches, who apparently can't see what you have set out with such clarity.

Plus we can see from our recruitment record how poor our analysts must be so we compound the problem by letting them loose on analysing the opposition.

Unless we start employing people of higher quality in key positions we are going to keep regressing.

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24 minutes ago, Davefevs said:

if an amateur can see stuff, what are the pros doing?

It is a little worrying.
The deep defensive line has been a problem during games for some time , but we seem to be starting like that now. Specially for this game I would suggest we need to be a bit more compact, we should lack pace at the back.

I would have hoped that they'd noticed how many of our attacks break down with a poor pass, and how many chances we give up by the same slack passing. I would have hoped to see some very deliberate passing , making sure we find our men, but the last game was as bad as any I've seen.

They control the ball well, and seem a threat whenever they break forward. That's a worry as our control of the ball is poor and we spend a lot of time and energy chasing to get the ball back. Brentford are exactly the type of team we could do without about now.

I hope we go 3-5-2. It would allow Hunt to get further forward ( or Edwards/Vyner if Hunt is out ), it would also allow a narrower more compact MF3 (however they set up) 

One last thing Dave, any luck finding the rules on loan players returning? 
I have searched and struggled to find anything. My head says that as the players are already registered with us, and have the return clause they should be available as the window opens. My heart says, this is the EFL and that would be too easy. TBH it doesn't make sense having to register our own player 24 hours before he plays for his parent club. 

My prediction, I can't see less than a 2 goal win for Brentford. If we play like we have been and they're on it, could be a real hiding. I did see someone mention a "Tinnion at Swansea moment" , lets hope not. How about Owura Edwards coming on as Sub and changing the game for City to nick an odd goal win 🤪

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For me 4-5-1 today , they are a lot better than us , we need them to not over run our midfield, try to contain them as if we give them space they will pass us to death, would be very happy if we could get a draw today and hopefully have a few shots, worry they will smash us, 

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1 hour ago, Davefevs said:

Even I’ve become worried about the obvious things missed of late.  Mine is only a fans view, and I write this for pleasure (well, you know what I mean), but there are some things that I hear the pundits on Sky say about City, or Tinnion, Owers, Gilmartin say about the opposition that are exactly what I’ve written, so if an amateur can see stuff, what are the pros doing?

Interesting in the summer the performance and opposition analysts were let go....and roles consumed by the Recruitment team!

Interesting also that we’ve gone from 352 where Holden said other teams changed to matched us, to doing the complete opposite.

I’ll say it Dave...

I think you underestimate yourself

for me , Being a good analyst / particularly Opposition

* Have desire to do so

* An understanding of the game , learnt through study / self education , experience and intelligence

* The ability to transfer your thoughts and assessment into words or a presentation 


You have a decent football background and may not have done coaching badges , but acquiring badges merely gave me the spark to study the game in a different way , not all the answers or understanding , and you have done that without the need of the spark of the badge process

The main difference from analytical presentations to coaching is the presentation , in words or on the grass and your presentations are excellent

You need the desire to understand and then the ability to explain to others , and you have both in abundance.

I really think you underestimate your analysis, and it’s presentation, I would suggest it’s as good , and almost certainly better and more astute than many analysts working at Pro clubs

Dont be surprised - there are a lot of bull****s within the game 

Edited by Sheltons Army
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7 minutes ago, Midred said:

 But how many clubs has he got promoted, Major?

I doubt he`d be a cheap option either. He`d want to bring in a load of backroom staff too I should think.

I also wonder if he could work with Mark Ashton............................

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Another great analysis, Dave and spot on for me. Would like to see HNM in a more advanced role alongside Nagy as you suggest. I think he has more to offer going forward than he does defensively (gets dispossesed too easily in dangerous areas for my liking). I think given a run of games he could gain a bit of confidence and be the link between midfield and attack that has been sorely missing.

Only other point being that last time Hunt was out DH kept Vyner in the middle and played Mariappa at RB.

If we play a solid 352 I can see us nicking a point.

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