Chasing Europe: Brighton and Brentford are small clubs playing for football's biggest stage
The two clubs are run more like sportsbooks than traditional footballing teams, but have managed to be very relevant in the Premier League in recent years
The Premier League has historically been dominated by the Big Six clubs. And for good reason, as the bigger the club, the bigger the wage bill spent on the superstars of football that go on to help teams win matches.
But two squads in recent years have bucked the trend. Brighton & Hove Albion and Brentford FC are among the smallest spenders in the world’s top football league, but are both chasing European places this season.
Nearing the end of the 2023 season Brentford sit ahead of behemoth Chelsea in the league table and are nipping at traditional giant Liverpool’s heels. Meanwhile, Brighton are sitting in sixth place headed into Matchweek 30 ahead of both those Champions League stalwarts and bidding for their own trip to Europe’s top club competition next season.
Last season was Brentford’s first ever in the Premier League. After many expected the Bees to get relegated they surprised pundits and fans alike with a 13th place finish, comfortably above the relegation zone.
Brighton has been in the Prem a few years longer and have arguably been one of the most successful teams the past couple seasons. After toiling near the relegation zone in 2018 through 2021, they finished ninth last season and are now sixth in the table in 2023.
The two played each other on Boxing Day last weekend in a bona fide thriller that ended 3-3 at the Amex Stadium.
Adding to the intrigue is the rivalry between the clubs’ owners — Tony Bloom of Brighton and Matthew Benham of Brentford. They both come from the finance and/or gambling world, and run their teams like a sportsbook, or even a hedge fund. They have many things in common; they both place a heavy emphasis on data, have a sister-club model of development throughout Europe and a track record of punching above their wages’ weight in the league table.
But by many accounts the owners are not on speaking terms after a gambling business-based falling out in 2004, so you can imagine how much it means for them to beat each other.
In a season where there is a legitimate title race at the top and another, perhaps even more exciting one, for league safety at the bottom, Brighton vs. Brentford for a spot in the Champions or Europa Leagueis the storyline of the year for me.
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Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea.
The graphic above was inspired by Tanya Shapiro’s R bump chart tutorial on her blog this week.
See my club soccer forecasts for full odds of each team’s potential league placement at the end of the season.