Brentford entertain AFC Bournemouth in the capital on Saturday afternoon in the Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final second leg, with Thomas Frank coming up against Cherries manager Jonathan Woodgate. The Bees currently hold the advantage in the contest after a sweetly constructed counter attack allowed Arnaut Danjuma to finish off the pieces in front of a number of Cherries fans who were able to return.
With a place in the Championship play-off final at stake, both teams will be battling it out to take one massive step towards the Premier League.
Having sustained a knee injury during the first leg, Steve Cook is expected to miss out for Bournemouth. Chris Mepham is on stanby to be introduced into the defence in what may the only change made by Woodgate. Midfielder Ben Pearson has a better chance of featuring after sustaining a hip injury in the first leg, but forward Junior Stanislas is out, aswell as Lewis Cook who will sit out this one.
Brentford manager Frank is more or less likely to stick with three at the back but changes are expected to take place towards the top end of the pitch. Bryan Muembo may get the nod over Sergi Canos at left wing back, preferred to Rico Henry who has only just returned from a hamstring injury. Canos or Saman Ghoddos could be used in a creative role behind Ivan Toney, a move which would result in Marcus Forss dropping down to the substitutes bench.
Josh Dasilva and Shandon Baptiste are sidelined and wont be involved as a result. Otherwise the Brentford boss has a fully fit squad to choose from, saying he is "extremely tempted" to start full backs Henrik Dalsgaard and Henry at lunchtime on Saturday. Right back Dalsgaard and left back Henry returned as second half substitutes against the Cherries from two month and three month injury lay offs.
Brentford have come into the play-offs in very good form, only having lost seven games all season. The Bees have won 24 games, drawing 15. In their Championship campaign they were unbeaten in their last 12 games which makes for fascinating reading as Frank will be looking to go one step better this season to get to the top flight.
Meanwhile, Bournemouth have had good and bad spells this season, but surged late on in the league to make sure they atleast secured a play-off spot and gave themselves a fighting chance. The Cherries made sure they held onto their lead on Monday night as they look to make an instant comeback to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
When Brentford took on Bournemouth previously in the Sky Bet Championship at the Brentford Community Stadium on December 30, the game ended 2-1 to the hosts. Dominic Solanke put the visitors ahead with Brenford fighting back to take the three points on home soil. Goals from Dalsgaard and Tariqe Fosu secured all three points for the Bees just before the new year beckoned for both sides. Both teams set up with a 4-3-3 formation on the day, with the game an even contest right till the end. Bournemouth tried to force an equaliser but it wasn't meant to be for the Cherries although they had the higher percentage of possession of 54% compared to the Bees 46%. During the 90 minutes, the Cherries also made more passes of 454 to Brentford's 384.
Players to watch
For Brentford, Dalsgaard and Henry are ones to look out for. Dalsgaard was absent for Brentford's last nine games and Henry the last 16 as the Bees made a sprint finish from Watford in the battle for automatic promotion. Brentford are a forward thinking club on and off the pitch, so it will come as no surprise that Dalsgaard and Henry were vital in the team's slick progression of the ball, and a big part of the attacking game plan.
Toney is the Bees’ star player by far, he is the top scorer in the Championship for a reason, having bagged 31 goals this season in 45 appearances with 10 assists in the process. Toney is dangerous in the final third and may be a target man for the Bees who will be looking to exploit the Cherries’ defence, although they failed to do so in the first leg. They will be looking to put the first leg behind them and looking no doubt to Toney's vital moments during the season and hoping the number 17 produces once again at crunch moments in the semi-final.
The players to look out for the Cherries include David Brooks, Jack Wilshere and Dominic Solanke. Brooks made his breakthrough in the Championship with Sheffield United in 2017-2018, but nine starts later he was off to Bournemouth. The money for Brooks ultimately funded a Blades promotion, and last season his former club finished ninth in the Premier League, whilst Bournemouth were relegated with an injury troubled Brooks starting just eight games. The Warrington born winger contributed five goals and six assist during the regular season, with others in the Bournemouth attacking roster offering much more in terms of output.
Wilshere and Solanke are clearly Premier League quality players with Wilshere being out of contract before joining the Cherries. Wilshere having played in the top flight with Arsenal and West Ham, his experience could prove to be important if used in the right way whether or not he is bought off the substitutes bench. Solanke on the other hand is an exciting prospect, always a striker that can pull out some goals when they are needed, so Bournemouth will be relying on his services up top to fire them into the final.
How to watch
The clash kicks off at 12.30 BST and will be broadcasted live on Sky Sports in the UK.
What the managers have said
Frank spoke to club media ahead of the game. When asked about the fans making a difference, he admitted the value the home advantage could bring through the spectators. He said:
"The fans will be crucial. We are going into a game which will come down to the fine, fine margins. Some of the fine margins will be our fantastic fans who will constantly push us forward and be behind us during the game. They will make it louder than it has ever been before to help us over the line. You have seen in the FA Cup Final and in some of the Danish Superliga games where there are a small number of fans in the ground but an incredible sound. That is what we need. We need to top perform tomorrow and our fans need to top perform tomorrow. There will be some percentages we will gain from having fans in there."
The Danish coach knows the football club must learn from last years lessons and touched on how crucial Toney could be in such a pivotal game.
"It's going to help us. You are a tiny bit calmer, you know what you are facing and you know what it is all about,” he said.
”We also know that we can turn this around. We have a good feeling and a good experience around it. We know that it is going to be difficult as Bournemouth have the slight advantage. I am sure if this was a normal game and one team was 1-0 up at half time, the Bookmakers would make them slight favourites to win the game.
”The way I see it is that with the fans and everything, this is a 50-50 game. We will come with everything and leave everything out there. We believe and hope that will be enough. We know that we can go to the final, we did that last year. The experience will give us calmness and a belief. We know that we are a good team, we have done well this year and we will come with that.
"You need your big players to perform in these games and he is one of those players we hope will hit a top level in this game. He wants to be there, he wants to perform, and he wants to be the big player that is there in the crucial moment. We need everyone to hit a seven/eight out of ten performance tomorrow with a few to be bang up there in terms of decisive moments and actions on the day."
When Woodgate faced the media, he was asked about coming up against a fierce Brentford side. He knows his team can’t be seen as scared of the occasion, he said:
"The mentality is to try and win the game, we don't want to sit back and soak up the pressure, that is not us, that's not how we play, we know they are going to try and come out and win the game. I have heard what the manager said after the game, they believe they can win the game and maybe think we are a bit scared. But lets see how the game unfolds, they will have 4,00 fans there so its going to be a big game, really looking forward to the contest."