In 2021, following their promotion to the Premier League, Brentford broke their club transfer record to sign Kristoffer Ajer from Celtic, with the Norway international penning a five-year deal.
Injuries contributed to a relatively slow start for Ajer following his move to west London, the defender making 23 starts in his first Premier League season before dipping in and out of the first team in the 2022/23 campaign.
However, the departure of Pontus Jansson to Malmö in the summer as well as defensive injuries throughout the season opened the door for Ajer to do exactly what he has done: establish himself as a key cog in Brentford’s line-up.
Thomas Frank’s side, ever since promotion to the top flight, have prided themselves on being extremely effective. Tactical flexibility and a generally pragmatic approach, both on and off the pitch, requires a key asset from a player: versatility, both stylistically and positionally.
Ajer has shown that versatility in abundance so far this season. The 6ft 5in defender has been deployed at centre-back in a two, right centre-back in a three and at right-back in a four so far this season across seven starts and three substitute appearances.
Only three players in the Brentford squad have made more tackles on average per game than Ajer this season with two of those, Christian Nørgaard and Mathias Jensen, being in the middle of the park.
Ajer has combined that defensive capability with some impressive work on the ball, averaging more than 30 passes per game and able to play in whichever mould Brentford prefer on the given day; going long or short.
An interesting comparison with the aforementioned Nørgaard and Jensen, though, would be that those two have also been the two most dribbled past players in Brentford’s squad, whereas Ajer is only dribbled past 0.4 times per match.
The defender has contributed in terms of successful dribbles for himself too, completing 0.6 marauding runs per game. Only three attackers – Bryan Mbeumo, Keane Lewis-Potter and Yoane Wissa – have completed more dribbles per game so far this season for the Bees, in addition to Rico Henry (of those to play more than an hour of football this season).
Further, Ajer’s aerial duel success percentage of 80 per cent is right up there with the best in the division, and the Ajer-Pinnock-Collins trio is currently one of the most aerially dominant in the Premier League across both boxes.
After an acclimatisation period, Ajer has found a rich vein of form and fitness and a new contract with the Bees is just reward for his progress.
Smart, versatile and hungry, the towering Norwegian in many ways represents core values that have been crucial to Brentford’s success over recent years.