Brentford’s manager Thomas Frank has spent much of his gripping Premier League press conferences downplaying the status of his newly promoted side with one metaphor after another.
Nevertheless, league-leaders Liverpool were decisively stung by Frank’s physics-defying bumblebees on their thrilling visit to the bus stop in Hounslow on Saturday evening.
Played at a frenzied, frenetic tempo, Brentford and Liverpool duked out an exhilarating 3-3 draw in front of a pulsating west London crowd.
Brentford – unlike fellow promotion winners Norwich City (who, incidentally, have lost 3-0 to Liverpool on two separate occasions this season alone) – were granted a merciful opening fixture list. In their first top flight campaign for almost three-quarters of a century, Brentford faced just one club that finished in the top half of last season’s Premier League in their first five matches.
Frank’s fizzing Bees swatted aside an undercooked Arsenal to open the season, but their enigmatic Danish coach warned pre-game that they would have to ‘overmatch’ that performance if they were to stand a chance against ‘one of the best teams and biggest clubs in the world’.
Seven minutes in and the punchy west Londoners looked nowhere near their bullying best. Liverpool had completed 51 passes, largely inside Brentford’s half, by the time the hosts had managed to string together five. On a rare occasion the ball wasn’t at the feet of a mustard yellow shirt, Christian Norgaard was shunted out of possession by Curtis Jones, who teed up Mohamed Salah for a poke past David Raya.
In a sliding doors moment, the ball slowed just enough as it trickled towards the goal line for Kristoffer Ajer to slide in and hook desperately clear. With their record signing slapping the turf in frustration while entwined with the netting, it looked like the makings of a long evening for Brentford’s previously parsimonious rearguard.
And so it would prove. Though not without bloodying the nose of their visitors in the process.
Ivan Toney – who won a match-high seven aerial duels up against the team of his boyhood fandom – out-jumped Virgil van Dijk to set his partner in crime Bryan Mbeumo one-on-one with Alisson only for Joel Matip to produce the second goal line clearance of the opening ten minutes.
One of the few blots of Brentford’s early season Premier League copybook have been the scarcity of chances carved out – only Tottenham have averaged fewer shots per game so far this season. However, set pieces have plugged the gap during the adaptation to this level.
In a sequence of misdirection David Copperfield would have been proud of, Brentford picked out former Red Sergi Canos, who – via a delicate Toney flick – bobbled a pass across the face of goal for Ethan Pinnock to tap in after almost half an hour.
However, Liverpool hardly played poorly – when they were allowed to play at all – showing the brutal thrust and guile that has propelled them to the top of the table.
Either side of half-time Brentford offered their visitors a rare flicker of space in a threatening area of the pitch and were punished. Within five minutes of Pinnock’s opener, Salah and Jordan Henderson took full advantage of the injured goalscorer to tee up Diogo Jota’s equaliser. Shortly after the interval, Liverpool’s superior individual quality – reflected by a wage bill more than ten times that of their opponent’s – seemed to have dulled Brentford’s threat.
Exploiting a vanishing pocket of space not particularly near to Brentford’s goal, Fabinho clipped a perfectly floated pass onto Salah’s laces that edged the visitors ahead for the first time.
Before Saturday’s slugfest, Brentford had only spent stoppage time trailing in the Premier League. Yet, the Championship’s most successful side from losing positions last season (23 points won) proved capable of transferring another enviable quality to the top flight. Not once, but twice, Brentford clawed their way back into the contest.
From the second phase of another set piece, Brentford kept five players inside Liverpool’s box, three of which swarmed upon Trent Alexander-Arnold at the back post to nod the ball down for Pontus Jansson. The captain’s swivelling shot crashed off the crossbar but – in a passage of play that reflected Brentford’s undeterred approach to the contest – Vitaly Janelt refused to the let the move fizzle out, twice heading the ball on goal and eventually over the line.
Yet, Liverpool underlined their deserved status among the Premier League’s elite once again, as Jones – a reserve-choice midfielder on his first league start of the season – rifled in a long range effort any seasoned professional would be proud of in the 67th minute.
Between his endearing aphorisms and lavished praise for Liverpool, Frank had insisted Brentford would attack their illustrious opponents. In search of an equaliser with ten minutes to play, the Dane held up his affirmation, leaving on Toney and Mbeumo, while adding Yoane Wissa to the front line in place of holding midfielder Norgaard.
With his first touches of the match, Wissa kept a cool head in stark contrast to the seething chaos around him, impishly dinking the ball over Alisson and – unlike Mbeumo – into the net to deservedly haul Brentford level.
Toney almost completed the night with a fairytale winner only to be rightly flagged offside, but not even VAR could dampen the jubilant scenes in TW8.
By becoming only the second team, after Chelsea, to take points off Liverpool this season, Brentford can enter their toughest spell of fixtures – as they face three of the top six from the previous campaign on the spin – with a dollop of healthy confidence.
Frank reasoned pre-game that, for a newly-promoted side chiefly targeting survival, ‘these are not the teams we need to compete against’. Yet, with a well-earned share of the spoils from the game of the season, Frank’s bumblebees fared (characteristically) improbably well.