How will Brentford cope without Raya and Toney?
David Raya and Ivan Toney have been integral to Brentford’s success over the last several years, yet both will be missing for the first half of this coming season.
Last year Toney scored 20 league goals, 34% of Brentford’s total. His impressive performances led to him becoming the first Brentford player to be capped for England since 1939.
Raya had the highest save percentage of any goalkeeper in the league last season, whilst also completing the most total saves. Raya was also integral to Brentford’s build-up. The Spaniard averaged 45 touches per 90 minutes, placing him in the 94th percentile in Europe’s top five leagues for this action.
The relationship between the striker and the goalkeeper was key as well. Raya would send pinpoint long passes up to Toney for the striker to flick on for attacking partners. Raya completed the highest number of launched (over 40 yard) passes of any Premier League goalkeeper, with Toney often the recipient of these.
In the closing weeks of last season, it was announced that Toney would be serving an 8 month ban for breaching the Football Association’s rules on football betting. The Englishman will not be available for selection until the 14th January 2024.
Raya will also not be available, having moved on to Arsenal to challenge Aaron Ramsdale for the number one spot. The 27-year-old only had a year remaining on his contract, and while the move is initially on loan, it is likely the deal will be made permanent next summer.
Both players were also part of the club’s ‘Leadership Group’, along with Christian Nørgaard and former captain Pontus Jansson, who has also left the club.
What action has been taken?
In terms of Raya, the club have brought in a player they hope will prove a like-for-like replacement.
Mark Flekken kept the most clean sheets of any goalkeeper in the Bundesliga last season with 13. The Dutchman is also very comfortable with ball at his feet. Identically to Raya, he averaged 45 touches per 90, showing his willingness to be involved in build-up. On average he completed 7.5 launched passes per 90, putting him in the 88th percentile, which proves his ability to provide accurate long passes.
So long as Flekken adapts well to the Premier League, his £13 million acquisition should prove smart business.
In attack, Brentford are taking a different approach to replacing Toney. Phil Giles, the club’s Director of Football said that club leadership believe they already have solutions within the squad.
“You can’t replace Ivan” said Giles in a recent interview with Standard Sport. “Well you can but it would cost an arm and a leg and we can’t afford to. So if you can’t replace him, you’ve got to think about how to do things differently.”
It is likely that Brentford will try to recplace Toney’s goals by committee. Winger Kevin Schade’s loan has been made permanent for £25 million and Keane Lewis-Potter will look to have a greater impact after last season’s injury troubles. Yoane Wissa and Bryan Mbeumo will also be expected to contribute more goals. Brentford are expected to add another winger as well, having had bids worth in excess of £30 million for Fiorentina’s Nicolás González and Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson rejected.
How will they play?
Following two seasons of hurting opposition sides with direct football, Thomas Frank wants the team to now maintain more possession. This tweak was seen towards the end of last season as the Danish manager utilised a 4-3-3 formation more regularly.
Expect Toney’s ban to speed this development in playstyle up. Without him they will look to build-up more slowly as Frank uses various combinations of forward players to attack.
Brentford’s season will be defined by how well they manage to perform without Raya and Toney. Many may expect them to struggle, but with their data led approach and long-term thinking, they’ll likely continue punching above their weight.