Talking Tactics

Why Toney is so important to the success of Brentford

By Adrian Clarke 16 Jan 2024
Ivan Toney

Adrian Clarke says forward's clinical finishing, aerial ability and dead-ball prowess make the Bees tick

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be influential in Matchweek 21.

Player analysis - Ivan Toney

After eight months out, Brentford will welcome back their talisman on Saturday evening.

Toney is set to make his first appearance for Thomas Frank’s side since May, and with forwards Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa missing, his return could not be more timely.

There is also an element of symmetry to Toney's comeback.

In his last home outing, Toney scored in a 2-1 win against this weekend’s opponents, Nottingham Forest, and he will be hoping for a repeat this weekend. against Nuno Espirito Santo’s men.

Losing their target man for such a lengthy period could have derailed the Bees, but despite the poor run of form they currently find themselves in, they have fared reasonably well in his absence.

Remarkably, Brentford have scored more goals in the 22 matches he missed than they did in Toney’s last 22 appearances before his suspension.

Winning the same number of matches, Brentford's overall points tally is down by only four.

Brentford with/without Toney
Statistic Toney's last 22 PL matches Last 22 PL matches
Wins 8 8
Draws 8 4
Losses 6 10
Points 32 28
Goals for/against 29/25 32/32

From a tactical perspective, Brentford did not change direction when their leading centre-forward was missing.

They retained a very similar identity, with Frank simply putting Wissa into the striker’s position as a like-for-like change.

Wissa is not as strong in the air as Toney, so the Bees did have to make some adjustments to cater for that.

Fewer long passes were aimed from back to front, where Toney proved to be so adept at beating central defenders in the air to flick the ball on, or to hold it up.

Last season David Raya picked out Toney with a number of launched passes, but without him up top Brentford’s new No 1, Mark Flekken, has been more reticent to kick long.

The 'keeper has delivered four fewer successful long passes per match than his predecessor.

Raya v Flekken comparison
Player Raya 22/23 Flekken 23/24
Long passes 974 311
Long passes/90 10.8 6.9
Successful long passes 410 124
Long pass success rate 42.1% 39.9%

Frank could now encourage Flekken to be more direct with his distribution, starting against Forest.

Toney is one of the best in the business at beating central defenders in the air and they would be foolish not to use that to their advantage.

Areas to improve: Set-pieces and chance conversion

Generally working well as a collective and sharing the load when it comes to scoring goals, Brentford’s Expected Goals (xG) per 90 has actually risen from 1.52 to 1.78 this season.

While longer matches and a general increase in goals may be a contributing factor, that level of improved attacking output shows Brentford did a terrific job in a creative sense without Toney.

The two areas which did see a downturn are not altogether surprising.

Brentford’s chance conversion has dipped and they have been significantly less dangerous from set-plays without Toney causing havoc inside the opposition penalty area.

Brentford's 22/23 v 23/24 conversion rate
Player 22/23 PL rank 23/24 PL rank
Conversion rate 17.9% 4th 14.2% 15th
Set-piece goals 18 =1st 5* 11th

* 19 matches played

There is no doubt that Toney’s presence at corners and wide free-kicks - and his quality standing over direct free-kicks - will give Brentford a more menacing edge from dead-ball situations.

He attacks crosses better than anyone else in the team and has plundered a lot of goals from set-pieces during his career.

Toney’s finishing has also been missed.

Toney in 22/23 v Wissa in 23/24
Stat Toney 22/23 Wissa 23/24
Total shots (exc. blocked shots) 78 30
Shots on target 42 15
Goals scored 20 4
Conversion rate 25.6% 13.3%
Mins per goal 147.7 388

Wissa, currently away at the Africa Cup of Nations, has had some fine moments as his replacement, but he has not been as clinical in front of goal as Toney was in 2022/23.

Brentford’s run of seven defeats in eight matches has unexpectedly plunged them into a battle to preserve their Premier League status.

They will be hoping Toney’s return to their starting XI kickstarts their campaign and swiftly begins to move them back towards safety.

Also on this series

Part 1: Why Joao Pedro has won De Zerbi's favour
Part 2: How Elliott can step up and shine in Salah's absence
Part 3: Can Arteta reignite misfiring Arsenal attack?

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