After all the excitement that followed Frank Onyeka’s move to Brentford last year, it is safe to say the midfielder’s debut Premier League season was not a success.
The Nigeria international was not awful, but he was just not that good, having signed from Danish side FC Midtjylland before the Bees’ bow in the top flight. An already-subdued campaign was then effectively curtailed after an injury sustained on international duty in March.
Onyeka did not play again in 2021-22. Having featured in 19 of Brentford’s 21 league fixtures before heading to the Africa Cup of Nations, the midfielder appeared just three times in the final 15 Premier League fixtures.
Fast forward to December 2022, and Onyeka, undoubtedly, feels part of this Brentford side. His on-field influence has grown in year two in West London, and that impact peaked just before the World Cup hiatus.
The Super Eagle assisted one of Ivan Toney’s goals in the 2-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion, was a troubling influence in the right half-space in the very next league outing versus Chelsea and played a dominant part in Thomas Frank’s crew beating Manchester City in the weekend preceding the World Cup.
Onyeka’s first Premier League goal contribution was that assist for Toney, and he could have had his first league goal after four minutes but for Ederson’s intervention.Getty
The Nigerian had made a darting third-man forward run into the space following a long ball by David Raya and was found by Rico Henry, only to have the Brazil goalkeeper smother the effort.
Despite limited possession at the Etihad Stadium, that game saw the Nigeria international record 26 touches, equalling a season-high against Brighton, with three coming inside the City penalty area, another season-high.
There has been a greater license to be involved in the team’s build-up and especially be a presence in the opposing penalty area this season. The entirety of Onyeka’s debut campaign saw him accumulate 15 touches in the opposition's 18-yard area. This year, the 24-year-old has already accrued 12 touches with the campaign far from over.
Further proof of the Super Eagle’s involvement is demonstrated by four goal-creating actions, three more than he managed in the previous campaign. He is just five shot-creating actions away from matching last season’s tally of 17, a figure he should reach if Frank does not alter the midfielder’s current role in the side.Getty
Brentford stunned the entire league in their final league game before the World Cup, defeating the defending league champions to secure their first away victory of a campaign that has seen them concede five at Newcastle United and four at Aston Villa.
For the Cityzens, it was their first loss at the Etihad Stadium in all competitions since February, a 3-2 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur. Antonio Conte’s Spurs are the visitors to the Gtech Community Stadium looking to avoid defeat to a side seeking another scalp either side of the World Cup break.
Onyeka was not available when both sides faced off in the corresponding fixture in April, so the Nigerian will hope to be selected as Brentford seek a first Premier League win over their cross-town rivals.
If performances preceding the league’s pause are anything to go by, the Super Eagle will be more than a bystander against the visiting Lilywhites.