Blues have had another summer of uncertainty, change and equal amounts of pessimism and optimism – well, maybe a touch more pessimism. All of the build-up has led us to this – the first game of the season as Blues take on Brentford at Griffin Park.
Brentford have had a similar summer, but they’re used to losing big players and replacing them by now. Just two summers ago it was Blues taking those players from them, and Brentford fans don’t forget that. Though Birmingham and London aren’t too close together, some Bees see this is a mini-rivalry after that summer, though Blues generally don’t care too much.
Blues still have Harlee Dean and Maxime Colin from that summer spending spree, with both earning new contracts this summer, who are likely to start Blues’ first game of the season. Brentford, perhaps surprisingly, still have Neal Maupay, who is widely disliked among Blues fans, but have added Swedish centre-back Pontus Jansson as their headline signing of the summer. Jansson controversially left Leeds despite being something of a fan favourite there, and he is likely to make his Bees debut against Blues.
Nobody can be completely sure what they expect from Blues this season, and the first game gives a great opportunity to figure out where Blues are. They will be without a new centre-forward though Blues fans will hope there will be a new number nine for the first home game, but new signings Ivan Šunjić and Dan Crowley are fit, available and hoping to supply Lukas Jutkiewicz with the delivery he needs to fire Blues ahead.
Brentford have been a consistent force in the Championship, and though they have lost some key players since last year, their recruitment is usually top notch. The loss of Romaine Sawyers is one that might lift the hopes of Blues fans, as he has been excellent at St. Andrews in recent years. Brentford have threatened to make the playoffs but fallen away too many times in recent years, and they will be hoping to dispatch of Blues if they want to stake an early claim at the top end of the table.
Last season the teams shared two draws – a 1-1 draw at Griffin Park and a goalless affair at St. Andrews. Blues’ goal at the Bees’ stadium came from Michael Morrison heading home a Jota set-piece – so the chances of that being repeated are pretty slim. The season before that, Brentford taught Blues a lesson in away performances with a textbook 2-0 win at St. Andrews, before taking them to town in their own backyard with a 5-0 rout. One of those goals was a Marc Roberts own goal – let’s hope the chances of that are as slim as the former. Interestingly though, that 5-0 was Blues’ only loss at Griffin Park in the last 10. Blues’ last win at Griffin Park came under Gary Rowett in 2016, with Clayton Donaldson and Ryan Shotton bagging one each in a 2-1 victory.
Going in to the opener is always a bit of a shot in the dark. The goalkeeper selection is a tough one, but Camp has marginally more minutes and Stockdale wasn’t convincing against Brighton.
Pedersen and Seddon played most of pre-season prior to Clarke-Salter arriving from Chelsea, that selection could go either way. Sunjic should be fit, but having not played with his new team-mates, it’s possible that he too will start from the bench. With Maghoma returning, it’s possible that Pep will put Maghoma in for the early stages of the game away from home, being able to offer more defensive cover from midfield, if needed.
Blues are 15/4 to beat Brentford at Griffin Park on Saturday meanwhile Brentford are 10/13. Lukas Jutkiewicz is 125/1 to get an opening day hat-trick at Griffin Park.
Pep Clotet on Blues’ chances going into the first game of the season:
I’m really looking forward to it, because I know how much this team likes to compete. We’ve been preparing for a month-and-a-half just to be there on Saturday and to try and put in a good performance and get the best result possible for ourselves.
As with every game, you go there with a mentality of winning but at the end of the day it’s a competition and you never know what’s going to happen. But I see a team focused on trying to put in a good display.
I think it’s going to be tough. Brentford have a very characteristic way of playing. They feel comfortable and they’ve been developing for years, especially last season when they changed from the 4-3-3 to the 3-4-2-1.
They’re developing that and they’ve had a lot of games to do that – half of last season and the whole of pre-season. I think it’s going to be difficult because they’re at home, they’re comfortable with the way they’re playing, they have it very mechanised and will cause a lot of problems for us. But we will go there with the mentality of trying to make things as hard as possible for them.
We know they’ve been tipped to have a very strong finish at the end of the league, but out on the pitch they’ll be two teams that want the same thing. Even though it’s not an easy start, we’ve got to go there with maximum ambition.
New Brentford manager Thomas Frank spoke before the opening clash, too:
I think we are in a very good place. I think the way we have trained and the effort that has been put in every single day in training and in the friendlies, the players have done very well. Physically as well, we are in a very good place.
Now we’re very much looking forward to Saturday against Birmingham, we’re looking forward to the fans coming and backing us and starting a magical season at Griffin Park. The players are in a very good place. There’s a very good spirit and a very good atmosphere in the group. The five new signings have done very well to be integrated and have settled in. Now we’re just looking forward to Saturday.