Brentford then. While all black and white eyes will be on Eddie Howe’s first starting 11 come 2pm on Saturday, across the page will be Thomas Frank’s selection. A collection of household names? No. But a serious outfit, brimming with talent and exceedingly well drilled.

The Bees won many friends with a barnstorming start to their first top-flight campaign in 73 years. A opening win over Arsenal, was followed by victories at Molineux and West Ham and 3-3 draw with Liverpool. But a run of four successive defeats – including to strugglers Burnley and Norwich – means they sit 14th on 12 points. Still, they might well have accepted more than a point a game back in August.

Premier League status was secured via the Play-Offs. They’d previously had nine failed attempts at hurdling that particular lottery at various levels; fortunately for supporters it was not an imperfect ten.  For most of the year they looked to be cantering towards automatic promotion, a 21-game unbeaten league run the envy of the country.

But St Valentine treated them to a defeat at Barnsley’s hands and within six days they had lost thrice, including west London derby embarrassment on QPR’s patch. That started a run of just four wins in 14 but they recovered in the nick of time, easing past Swansea at Wembley having overcome Bournemouth in the semis despite losing the first-leg.

Frank, a charismatic Dane, celebrated his third anniversary as manager last month, having previously served as assistant since 2016.  That he was afforded time to succeed is testament to the club’s blueprint. Eight defeats in a manager’s first 10 games would have most hierarchies pondering removal; owner Matthew Benham’s faith never wavered. Frank has – or at least gives the impression of having – the balance we all strive for in life. Opiniated but willing to listen. Passionate yet level-headed. Confident with just a touch of arrogance.  He is one of those obsessive detailed types, always looking to get that little extra.

Brentford’s Moneyball approach is well-trodden ground, as is their ‘B’ team, introduced in lieu of the stiffs and bairns back in 2016.  And the way they’ve managed to consistently sell and replace is to be marvelled at. Post-Frank’s first season 25-goal striker Neil Maupay and captain Romaine Sawyers departed; following the Play-Off final defeat in 19/20 Ollie Watkins and Saïd Benrahma moved on; former Mag Ivan Toney would have played Premier League football this year one way or other.

And it’s not just goal scorers. Vitaly Janelt, 23, arrived for relative peanuts from second-tier German outfit VfL Bochum in the 2019 summer. Having bidden his time initially, a Christian Nørgaard injury gave him the opening he needed. Janelt made himself integral to the side, ending up starting 36 Championship games.

When you consider Nørgaard’s pedigree – Frank believes he could play the number six role anywhere in the world, and he helped Denmark to the Euro 2020 semi-finals – that is no mean feat. With Josh DaSilva side-lined until the New Year, expect the pair to be joined by either Frank Onyeka or Mathias Jensen as part of a midfield three. They will press, press, press on Saturday; Jonjo will not have the luxury of time on the ball.

Before promotion, Brentford were the second tier’s entertainers, top scoring and possessing the top-scorer in both 19/20 (80) and 20/21 (79 goals). Toney notched 31 last season; a record since the modern Championship began. Mind you, Aleksandar Mitrović – with 20 in just 17 games so far – has his sights set on breaking that.

Toney though is not just a goal-scorer. He also registered 10 assists last season, totalling 0.96 strikes or assists per 90 minutes. A complete centre forward, a hulk of a human, equally as happy feeding – he has made a team-high 18 passes that have led to a shot – or being fed. It’s too early to judge him at the top level but he has a pair of goals and assists so far. How he’d love to bag at SJP.

Much of last season saw Toney flanked in a front three by Bryan Mbeumo and Sergi Canós. But while the trio remain teammates, the pack has been reshuffled. Frank’s hand was forced somewhat by injuries to attacking full-backs Rico Henry and the now departed Henrik Dalsgaard back in March.  That saw them switch from four to five at the back,  and it’s a formation they’ve retained with Canós deployed as an offensive right wing-back. Henry has returned and will occupy the left.

Mbeumo now plays the supporting role to Toney and is making a decent first of it. Most comfortable cutting in from the right onto his favoured left peg, he has bagged a couple already. His shots on target percentage (17.4% of 23) looks wasteful, but he has struck the woodwork half-a-dozen times – by far a league high. Fine margins. Yoane Wissa, an £8.5m summer signing, is the other with two goals.

At the other end, David Raya’s five-month absence will be keenly felt.  His distribution is so good Jürgen likened him to a number 10, while Brentford’s high defensive line makes it vital the gloveman commands the zone in front of the penalty area. The Bees have had more defensive goalkeeping actions outside the 18-yard box (16) than anyone. Alvaro Fernandez has replaced Raya in the last two games but is yet to keep a clean sheet.

In front of Fernandez will be a back three of Pontus Jannson, Ethan Pinnock and one of record signing Kristoffer Ajer and Mathias Jørgensen. The latter, who goes by Zanka, was picked up on a free in September after Mads Bech Sørensen suffered a long-term injury. If Zanka plays, watch out for the long-throw. Only Liverpool and Manchester United have created more shooting opportunities from dead ball situations, and that includes the move Rory Delap made famous. Frank followed Klopp’s footsteps in enlisting the services of Thomas Grønnemark, the world’s first specialist long-throw coach, and Zanka was picked up with that in mind.

Pinnock has one of those fairy-tale football journeys. Six years back, he was considering life as a PE teacher while playing non-league football for Dulwich Hamlet. Forest Green Rovers, then of the National League took, took a punt and he made his way back to London via a spell at Barnsley where he won League One. Nothing fazes him.

As we tick off the days until January, Eddie Howe’s first task is to ensure United are not cut adrift.  Crucial to avoiding a bleak, bleak winter will be not only Brentford’s visit, but home games against Norwich City and Burnley. Here’s hoping.

SAM DALLING