Brentford vs Swansea | Saturday 29th May 2021, 15:00 | Sky Sports
And so it comes to this. The ‘richest game in football’ is upon us once more, and this time Swansea are the opponents for a Brentford side who reached this stage last season, only to be defeated by a Joe Bryan inspired Fulham.
Swans were knocked out at the semi-final stage at this point in the previous campaign, and whilst making the final resembles improvement in that regard, the Swans will be going all-out to secure a Premier League return for the first time since 2018.
Having lost the first leg 1-0 and then fell behind in the second leg, you could argue that Brentford certainly did things the hard way in overcoming Bournemouth at the semi-final hurdle. A red card to their former defender Chris Mepham certainly aided their cause in producing a comeback, and in the end they eventually prevailed.
That was despite losing Danish international Christian Nørgaard in the warm-up, and it remains to be seen if he can return at Wembley. Rico Henry made a return on the bench in the first leg, but was nowhere to be seen next time out. Thomas Frank made some bold alterations, such as dropping Marcus Forss to the bench, the man who would eventually confirm the Bees’ day out this weekend.
Roared on by a limited but raucous crowd, sitting in their new stadium for the first time, Brentford would get the job done. However, the emotions of that day are now ultimately forgotten, as it will essentially all count for nothing if they don’t deliver the goods on Saturday.
Across the regular Championship season, Frank’s men ended the campaign as top scorers, no largely thanks to the exploits of Ivan Toney, whilst they were ranked only third to champions Norwich and also fellow play-off team Barnsley in relation to number of shots on goal. When you consider Swansea are positioned 21st out of 24 for goals attempts, it suggests a clear difference in style of play and approach.
Both head-to-head clashes during the season finished 1-1, which perhaps highlights how much of a complex puzzle this play-off final is to try and solve. Brentford led both of those games, only to be pegged back, even with Swansea down to ten man at the Liberty Stadium in January.
Steve Cooper has definitely moulded Swansea as the season has progressed. The change in formation is perhaps one obvious starting point. They are now a clear 4-3-3 team, and it is someone like Welsh international Connor Roberts who has not benefited from this so much. However, the defensive foundation has largely remained the same in ultimately looking to keep a clean sheet.
In their minds, if they can do that, they’ll win games. They have the individual quality in attack from the likes of Andre Ayew, Jamal Lowe and Conor Hourihane to nick a goal. Unsurprisingly, Swansea lead the league in number of clean sheets, but only three more than Brentford, which may surprise some.
In fact, Swansea only conceded three goals fewer than Brentford during the league season, so does that somewhat debunk the general myth? Probably not. We still associate Brentford as quite an expansive team that looks to build from the back and really get at the opposition at a high tempo, especially utilising their wing backs and getting their playmakers like Matias Jensen on the ball in the middle third.
Toney is the guy to finish off such moves, but Swansea will believe the play-off form of Ben Cabango and Marc Guehi could quieten the former Peterborough man. Expect that to be a key battle.
Swansea’s own version of Jensen is Matt Grimes, and his role as the sort of ‘quarterback’ means the Swans are very quick to turn from defence into attack. I mentioned above that Swansea are ranked very, very low across the league for shots on goal. That therefore means they’ll have to be clinical if they’re to be a success at Wembley.
Swansea however are ranked 6th for entries into the opponents half, so combining that with their shot numbers does suggest they’re relatively happy to be patient in these areas, so they won’t necessarily panic or look to be as quick to get a shot away than say Brentford will.
We can expect Brentford to have more shots on goal here, and largely a greater amount of possession, but Swansea won’t be hugely concerned by that.
I don’t normally like to look too far back in history when focusing on games, but I think when it comes to the Championship Play-Off Final then it is a bit of an exception. It really is such a unique game given what is at stake. There will be a limited crowd in attendance, which will add to the spectacle, so it is really who can handle their nerve on the big stage.
Only five of the last 19 Championship Play-Off Finals has seen both teams score, whilst six of the last eight contained one goal or less inside 90-minutes. It is a nervy game more often than not. An early goal could put an end to that, but I see this being quite a tactical affair.
I’m therefore keen to oppose goals here, especially with both so good defensively. Under 1.5 Goals at 7/4 (Unibet) looks a decent little play. History would suggest that making it to extra-time isn’t so likely. It is happened only three more times since the epic Charlton v Sunderland affair at the Old Wembley in 1998.
However, both league games did of course finish 1-1, so it probably wouldn’t be a shock. I can just see either side nicking this however, and I really couldn’t call it. I’d maybe back 1-0 Brentford (49/10 Sporting Index) and 1-0 Swansea (9/1 Betfair) as if either side are to prevail then 1-0 looks a good shout. The last four play-off finals won inside 90-minutes was settled by a one-goal margin.
Finally, with the fitness of Rico Henry unknown, it looks as though Sergi Canos will remain in the left wing back slot. I think 3/1 (Bet365) on him to receive a card therefore looks a worthy play. He’s had a couple of bookings recently, and he clearly is a forward-thinking player, and with Swansea playing on the break then he could be forced into a tactical foul at some point.