Brentford aim to bounce back from last season's play-off final defeat by overcoming Birmingham in their opening Championship clash. Mark O'Haire analyses the encounter.
"Thomas Frank’s team were the second-tier’s most dominant after champions Leeds, monopolising possession, limiting opportunities conceded and creating catalogues of chances"
Birmingham v Brentford
Saturday September 12, 12:30
Birmingham short in forward areas
Birmingham begin the 2020/21 campaign with their seventh new manager in four years as Aitor Karanka takes over the controls at St Andrew's. The Blues endured a nightmare finale to last season, picking up a paltry three-point tally from their closing nine-games, leaking 18 goals in the process. Karanka is therefore expected to stem the bleeding at the B9 club.
The former Real Madrid star is renowned for his organised and pragmatic approach, and has already made moves to strengthen the Birmingham backline. Former colleagues George Friend and Adam Clayton are eye-catching arrivals to solidify the centre of the park, whilst Maikel Kiftenbeld's return from injury will also give Blues overdue bite and muscle.
Jude Bellingham's big-money sale ensures Birmingham are no longer scrimping and saving, however, Karanka's team do look a little light in forward areas following the teen prodigy's departure, plus the expiration of Scott Hogan's loan. To make matters worse, Lukas Jutkiewicz is a major doubt for Friday's fixture in what's expected to be a 4-2-3-1 system.
Brentford aim to start strongly
Brentford boss Thomas Frank believes the Bees must hit the ground running if they're to finally realise ambitions of Premier League football. The West Londoners choked on the final furlong last season, failing to pocket two points from their final two regular season fixtures to secure a top-two finish, before coming unstuck in the Championship play-off final.
With less than six weeks since Brentford's Wembley heartache, a hangover is entirely plausible, especially so with the impending sales of star duo Ollie Watkins and Said Benrahma putting their availability in question. The standout capture of Peterborough hitman Ivan Toney should ensure the Bees still pack plenty of punch come Saturday.
Goalkeeper David Raya was unavailable for last weekend's Carabao Cup clash at Wycombe and is also in the midst of transfer speculation. Even so, the Spanish stopper should resume duties between the sticks this weekend with Frank possibly also opting to continue with new centre-half signing Charlie Goode at centre-half alongside Ethan Pinnock.
Bees firm favourites at St Andrew's
Birmingham have avoided defeat in each of their four fixtures against Brentford at Championship level over the past two campaigns. Blues picked up four points against the Bees in 2019/20, including a smash-and-grab 1-0 success at Griffin Park on the opening afternoon of the season. However, the hosts are winless in four at home to the capital club.
Birmingham [4.10] begin a new era on Saturday with the Blues desperate to improve upon a dreadful home return in 2019/20. The Second City club accrued the second-fewest points as Championship hosts (W6-D7-L10), as well as pocketing just W1-D3-L6 when welcoming top-10 teams. A lack of available offensive options could make life tough for Aitor Karanka here.
Brentford [1.97] were consistently quoted as odds-on favourites when taking to the road post-lockdown so the Bees price - on the short side of evens - is no major surprise. Thomas Frank's team were the second-tier's most dominant after champions Leeds, monopolising possession, limiting opportunities conceded and creating catalogues of chances.
Five of the last six meetings between Birmingham and Brentford have landed Under 2.5 Goals (1.75) profit and the same selection paid out in over half of the Bees' road trips last term. With expert organiser Aitor Karanka now in charge at Blues, a low-scoring showdown shouldn't be discounted from Saturday's early Championship kick-off.
With a clear preference for Brentford, plus the realistic prospect of a match that fails to catch fire, punters should look towards the Same Game Multi market for an avenue in. Combining Brentford Double Chance and Under 3.5 Goals gives us a much more appetising 1.70 shot, keeping a collection of correct scores onside at St Andrew's.
Mark's 2019/20 Profit/Loss
Staked: 188.00 pts
Returned: 207.09 pts
P/L: +19.09 pts