Brentford get their 2023/24 Premier League campaign underway on Sunday.
The Bees’ 3-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in May – inspired by Bryan Mbeumo’s man-of-the-match performance – was their first victory over Spurs since 1948.
Thomas Frank’s side have had no shortage of tough tests this summer, with three games against Premier League opposition during a two-week tour of the USA preceding a visit from Ligue 1 side Lille last weekend.
Tottenham’s trip to TW8 will be broadcast live in the UK on Sky Sports Premier League (2pm kick-off).
Stephen Gillett, Playmaker Stats: Nullifying Kane the key to Brentford success
Much of this summer’s transfer talk has focused on Harry Kane and this preview jumps on the bandwagon to discuss his importance to Tottenham, and how the Bees can potentially thwart him on Sunday.
Bayern Munich’s hopes of luring England’s captain away from north London this summer have gone kaputt and the 30-year-old striker now looks set to play out the final year of his contract with Spurs.
Although they are a reported £86 million worse off with Kane still in their ranks, Tottenham will kick off the 2023/24 campaign against Brentford with one of the Premier League’s greatest centre-forwards leading the line – Kane, with 213 goals, second only to Alan Shearer (260 goals) in the competition’s all-time goal charts.
Tagged a ‘one-season wonder’ after his breakthrough 2014/15 campaign, Kane has shown himself to be anything but – his prodigious eye for goal allied to a team ethic that makes him a creator of goals, as well as a ruthless finisher.
It was business as usual last season for Kane, who equalled his best-ever tally for Premier League goals in a single season with 30 – though the magnitude of that achievement was overshadowed by Erling Haaland’s record-breaking debut in English football.
If we take last season as a snapshot, what did 2022/23 tell us about Kane’s strengths… and what can Brentford learn from his stats?
What stands out immediately is that Kane himself plays the numbers game. Any centre-forward worth their salt knows you have to shoot to score and he took on more shots (130) than any player in the top flight last term: hitting the target with more of them (63) than any other player.
While Marcus Rashford (76) took the most shots in the division with his right foot, Mo Salah the most with his left (101) and Aleksandar Mitrovic (37) the most with his head, Kane’s numbers tell the tale of an all-round striker who is a threat off either foot and an aerial menace.
Kane led the Premier League for headed goals last season, with 10, and the stage is set for a fascinating contest on Sunday given that Brentford were the most aerially dominant team in the top flight in 2022/23 – defender Ben Mee (132) winning more aerial duels than any player.
Kane’s strengths last season actually mirrored Brentford’s, in many ways – aerial prowess going hand in hand with a knack for causing havoc from set-pieces.
The Bees ranked joint-top for Premier League goals from dead-balls last season with 23, including penalties, while Kane (10) notched the most strikes of any player from corners, throw-ins and free-kicks.
With Ivan Toney out for the Bees until January, Sunday’s showdown won’t pit the two sharpest-shooting Englishmen in the Premier League last season against one another.
It will, however, mark the first game of possibly Kane’s last season at Tottenham and – given that he scored a greater share of his team’s Premier League goals (43 per cent) last season than any player – how Brentford handle him may strongly influence the result.
Spurs seek stability under Postecoglou
Tottenham will be chasing some much-needed stability this season after a rollercoaster campaign last time out.
Antonio Conte started the campaign in charge and things were, for the most part, going well under the Italian until the World Cup break in mid-November. Spurs were fourth in the Premier League and had topped their Champions League group. The momentum from the prior campaign seemed to have been carried over.
But that was not the case after Christmas, with their form severely lacking consistency. They lost three and drew one of their first seven league games back and were left without Conte on the touchline at the start of February after he returned to his native Italy for surgery to remove his gallbladder.
Conte returned shortly afterwards but was soon forced to rest further after admitting he underestimated the required recovery time. His trusted assistant Cristian Stellini took charge in the interim and soon found himself in the hotseat on a full-time basis following an extraordinary rant from Conte following a 3-3 draw against Southampton.
“We are 11 players that go into the pitch,” he said. “I see selfish players. I see players that don’t want to help each other and don’t put their heart in.”
On 26 March, Conte’s 16-month tenure in north London came to an end by mutual consent. Stellini took over as acting head coach until the end of the season, but lasted only four games, the last of which was a 6-1 defeat at Newcastle.
Ryan Mason subsequently saw out the season but could not lift Tottenham higher than eighth. It was their lowest finishing position in 14 years and meant they failed to qualify for Europe for the first time since 2010. The 32-year-old was, at one point this summer, even reported as a candidate to take the job on a permanent basis, but chair Daniel Levy instead opted to pursue Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou.
The Australian was appointed on a four-year deal in June and, in his first interview, his words promised plenty. “My main thoughts will be on the responsibility I bear and the excitement I have within me that I can fulfil those dreams and aspirations of every Tottenham supporter,” he said. The fact his side scored 10 goals across their last two pre-season games gives a glimpse into the style said fans can expect to see.
Elsewhere at the club, as ever, Harry Kane’s future has dominated the headlines this summer. The 30-year-old has one year remaining on his contract and it was reported recently that if he was still at Tottenham by the time of the season opener, he would remain at the club so as not to spoil new boss Postecoglou’s plans.
However, at the time of writing, Bayern Munich are continuing to chase a deal for the England captain, who is only 47 goals behind Alan Shearer’s all-time Premier League scoring record going into 2023/24.
Whatever the outcome, Kane’s future is sure to impact the way the club’s season goes – but given the way he blocked out the noise to star against Shakhtar Donetsk, if he does remain in the capital, he will still be Spurs’ prized asset.
In the Dugout
Ange Postecoglou started out in management in his native Australia with South Melbourne, where he had spent his entire playing career.
After two years as assistant, he was handed the head coach role in 1996 and spent another four successful years at the club, before leaving to work with Australia under-17s and U20s national teams for the next seven years.
Having failed to guide the U20s to the 2007 World Cup in Canada, he left the national set-up to coach Greek outfit Panachaiki and later Whittlesea Zebras.
In 2009, he took over at Brisbane Roar and won the A-League Championship in 2010/11 and 2011/12, before moving onto Melbourne Victory, where he was unable to produce a similar level of success.
Postecogolou’s tenure at AAMI Park concluded prematurely, however, he was appointed head coach of the senior Australia men’s team in October 2013. He oversaw an encouraging group-stage campaign at the 2014 World Cup and won the Asian Cup the following year.
The Socceroos later qualified for the 2018 World Cup, but he resigned shortly afterwards to join Yokohama F Marinos of the J-League, where he would go onto guide the club to its first title in 15 years in 2019.
The 57-year-old arrived in north London this summer after two incredible years at Celtic. He won an unbelievable 83 of his 113 games in charge in Glasgow, on the way to two Scottish Premiership titles, one Scottish Cup and two Scottish League Cups.
With Rob Guest, Tottenham Hotspur reporter for football.london
In Hot off the Press, football.london’s Rob Guest explains how Tottenham are likely to set up under new boss Ange Postecoglou.
“It will be a 4-3-3, which is a change from Conte’s 3-4-3 formation.
“In terms of the team, it will likely be Vicario in goal, Emerson Royal at right-back, Cristian Romero and maybe Ben Davies in central defence and Destiny Udogie at left-back.
“In midfield, I imagine it will be Bissouma, Maddison and one of Pape Matar Sarr or Giovani Lo Celso, with Kane – providing he is still at the club – Dejan Kulusevski and Son either side of him.”
Jones handed opening-day assignment
Referee: Robert Jones
Assistants: Ian Hussin and Wade Smith
Fourth official: Jarred Gillett
VAR: Tony Harrington
Robert Jones joined the Select Group 2 in 2017 before progressing to Select Group 1 ahead of the 2020/21 season.
The Merseyside official’s first Championship assignment was Brentford’s trip to Barnsley in April 2017.
Jones refereed 31 games last season – 27 of which in the Premier League – including the Bees’ 5-2 victory over Leeds United in September.
Tottenham Hotspur 1 Brentford 3 (Premier League, 20 May 2023)
Bryan Mbuemo inspired a superb second-half comeback as Brentford kept their European hopes alive with a 3-1 victory at Tottenham Hotspur.
The Cameroon international clinically finished twice and put the other on a plate for Yoane Wissa as Thomas Frank’s Bees scored three without reply after the break.
Those goals cancelled out Harry Kane’s early strike for Spurs and moved Brentford to within a point of their hosts with one game left to play.