Brentford FC and their 41 year old defenders.
“You’ll never win anything with kids”. As the now infamous saying goes. It was a line uttered by the legendary dour pundit, Alan Hanson. The statement is now synonymous with the biggest underestimation of one of the greatest batch of youngsters to progress through the youth ranks of a football club at the same time. His error in judgement was confounded and made to look all the worse, due to the extra-large amount of winning that followed. He was emphatically announcing his point, laying claim to his opinion that experience went hand in hand with age and how he was utterly convinced both were directly linked and a causation of winning. His point had a slightly deeper level which was a little harder to untangle. He firmly believed through his own football journey that effective experience could only be gained slowly over time and players with many more miles on their football clock couldn’t be pushed off a winning course by young and inexperienced whippersnappers.
If you wanted to win, you’ll not do it with youngsters that haven’t won before. They can’t be trusted, look at them, they’ll cave as they haven’t seen what you need to see to win. Or something to that effect.
Alan may have had a smidgen of a point but his dated statement was riddled with biases. When he was progressing through the game, young players looked, well, young. Underdeveloped physiques, naive in decision making, tentative and meek in comparison to the hardened football warriors they may face. Coaching and tactics were somewhat basic, with the youngest, most inexperienced players exposed and generally a team’s weakest spot or achilles heel. He was sure of his claim, one of which I’m convinced he looks back on with hilarity and amusement.
Brentford FC are still yet to win anything with their own kids, but they have captured two brilliant centre backs who at a combined age of 41, have already won over the Brentford fans and the wider football community with their authoritative displays. Way beyond their years, apparently.
Of the two, there is more talk surrounding Chris Mepham, and quite fairly so. With full international caps to his name and the commencement of his 2nd season as an established centre back for Brentford FC in the EFL Championship, Mepham has shown over a period of time that he excels at this level and is pivotal to Brentford’s system on the pitch. Whether patiently moving the ball left or right, progressively when possible or stepping into midfield when necessary, Mepham has now reached un-droppable status. There’s little or no doubt that he could make the step up into the EPL.
Schooled in his first season alongside the commanding Dane, Andreas Bjelland, the natural progress and development of Mepham has been startling, with his value significantly increasing and interest from prying clubs ever growing. At 21, he has already featured alongside greats such as Bjelland, Ramsey, Maupay and Bale and not looked out of his depth, with his partnership as the ball player alongside Konsa looking natural from the start.
Konsa made the move from Charlton to The Bees in the summer of 2018 and flanked by his young CB partner, looks similarly at ease with the game at Championship level.
At 20 years old, he is already a giant of a centre back with a colossal presence. But to pigeonhole Konsa as an oversized basic blocker or defensive wall would be wide of the mark and missing out on many other impressive aspects to his game.
Most of his grounding was completed at the Valley, a tough on & off field environment in recent years, where young players have to grow up fast. Konsa with exceptional coaching to date looks to have taken any adversity on board and channelled it into his performances as he’s effortlessly blossoming at Griffin Park.
Brentford FC are becoming the envy of many a club and how they hold off potential suitors for their two gems will be interesting, but how good are they?
With the ball at their feet and in their overall performance, they’re almost a reflection. Statistically the pair are incredibly similar and perfectly coordinated, Konsa favouring the right side of defence and Mepham, the left.
Mepham gets the plaudits as the more elegant on the ball but does Konsa’s physique cloud judgement towards him?
Konsa, as touched upon, is much more than the combatant he may be unfairly labelled as and with exceptional recovery pace and the ability to turn in tight areas when evading pressure from opposition attackers, he’s more nimble than given credit for.
Passing accuracy for the pair is us up there with the best in the league, with both in the top 10.
Konsa — 89.9 % pass accuracy p90
Mepham — 90.3% pass accuracy p90
Of players with 1400 minutes or more they are the top 2, with Konsa attempting slightly less passes than Mepham p90 at 43 to 48.
These numbers are quite startling and probably taken for granted as Brentford have been spoiled with high class passers in the last few years.
So we’re seeing that more of the game in the deep positions is going through Mepham and observing the players on the pitch, this does makes sense.
The lines and angles created with the goalkeeper, Josh Mceachran, Sawyers and the fullbacks are incredibly important to Brentford’s probing build up and as such we do tend to see Mepham more involved in this play, which in turn seems to favour the left hand side.
Konsa when on the ball has Dalsgaard outside to the right or down the line as his natural passing option. The right hand side of Brentford is by no stretch direct but in comparison to the left is much more inclined to take advantage of Dalsgaard’s height so when the ball does go long, it almost exclusively avoids the left hand side. Bentley and Brentford will use the right hand wing as a way to relieve pressure.
Dalsgaard hugs the touch line and challenges the aerial ball out wide. Play on the right hand side because of this tactic is naturally less patient and the more direct route in moving the ball into the middle or final third.
Mephams higher average pass numbers could be a result of this but of the passes Konsa is involved in, his completion rate is extremely impressive.
Looking a little deeper into types of passes and an area in which Mepham does actually dominate Konsa is the number of average passes played forward.
Mepham — 20.8 p90
Konsa — 13.3 p90
I’d attribute this to again Mepham playing on the left hand side with currently Barbet as a wide option, a player much more likely to come short, contribute to build up play and then pass the ball forward instead of turning and running but creating passing links with the midfield, attackers and back to Mepham if opposition pressing dictates.
We’re kind of building a picture of why Mepham has the higher and more progressive passing numbers but I have no doubt Konsa would post similarly high, if for instance the wide aerial tactic was used on the left instead of the right.
Surprisingly, to me at least, Mepham is the busier of two when looking at defensive duels per 90.
Categorization of the two players would have Konsa as the player to challenge primary attacks and danger, More inclined to be involved in battles earlier and leaving Mepham sweeping up behind, but it’s simply not the case.
Mepham — 7.9 average defensive duels p90
Konsa — 3.7 average defensive p90
Aerial duels paints a similarly illuminating picture -
Mepham — 7.4 p90
Konsa — 3.9 p90
Ideas surrounding physique and size would naturally have us believe Konsa as the leading aggressor, when really Mepham is taking the primary brunt of opposition attack, Konsa acting as almost a second line of defence.
Interception averages per 90 also show Mepham as the more active -
Konsa — 4.82 p90
Mepham — 5.34 p90
Are we seeing opposition attacks target and favour the Mepham route to Brentford’s goal and intentionally avoiding Konsa, particularly when going long or aerially? It makes logical sense to probe a weak spot of the two but the opposition are misled, Mepham is continually showing that he is more than up to the task.
Where Konsa has the upper hand is strength and physicality so there could be some logic behind how sides are targeting Brentford.
Whether it be pre-planned or the statistics level off as the season develops, we’ve seen Mepham as the player involved in higher number of defensive duels and tested aerially more frequently. And as much as to date we’re looking at how exciting the double act is, there is plenty of scope for undoubted improvement.
Brentford’s defensive unit will feel a little unlucky to have conceded as many goals as it has. Bentley will be individually disappointed with some performances, with underlying numbers having The Bees much higher up the table. The attack is doing its bit, but as usual running behind expected goals with the quality of chances against or conceded being converted at higher rate than liked. Unexplainable periods, such as conceding 4 away to Preston or the ball squeezing through a goalkeepers hands should be anomalies and eradicate themselves, levelling off in points earned as the season goes on. Deep possession and the control of space as a defensive tactic are where we’re seeing Mepham & Konsa do their best work.
When Ryan Woods left Brentford, the club moved to promote Josh McEachran as the main holding midfielder. Brentford’s last two main holding defensive midfielders differ in skill sets. McEachran, whilst important and elegant in possession lacks the tenacity and defensive ability of Woods. For the club to feel trusting enough to enter into a season reducing midfield defensive stability, the payoff has to be in an improved CB pairing, both in possession and out. If Egan was still in the squad, the back line may not be able to compensate for what was lost in Woods, (some would argue they have not generally) with less ability and pace on hand to execute 18/19s game plan.
It could be seen as a risk giving up on midfield protection, but instead we’re seeing a firm plan and belief in defenders to deliver. Having a high percentage of possession and limiting opposition attacks to longer balls, (which have unfortunately lead to a higher number of goals than maybe deserved) you’re attempting to let variance run its course and see the team through a low scoring game with a vibrant attack, effectively doing the best you can to impose your own game onto the outcome. Attempting this with centre backs of 20 & 21 is typical Brentford type thinking. For context, John Terry was 37 in his final season as a player at Aston Villa.
A third of the way through the season, Mepham & Konsa have done nothing but impress, maturely finding their way through a now typical Brentford spell. A lull of conversions in attack, unluckiness at the back and a manager change have all potentially contributed to a strange set of results, but seen the pair show consistently high performance levels. It’s instead rather noticeable that in their absence, defensive immaturity can come to the fore, a problem hopefully solved by the returning Jeanvier.
Overall, we’re observing two exceptional youngsters. Admittedly, yet to win anything and according to old Alan, probably never will. But something tells me he’d also be wrong regarding these two, maybe not to the scale of the famous 92 class, but in Mepham & Konsa, it’s hard to see anything but more of the games big winners.