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Premier League Team Preview: Brighton

All 20 Premier League clubs are being previewed ahead of the 2019/20 season. This instalment discusses Graham Potter’s Brighton.

  • 2018/19 Finish: 17th
  • Signings so far: Matt Clarke (£3.5m), Leandro Trossard (£18m), Taylor Richards (£2.5m)
  • Possible Gameweek 1 lineup (4-2-3-1): Ryan, Montoya, Duffy, Dunk, Bernardo, Stephens, Propper, March, Groß, Trossard, Murray
  • First six fixtures: Watford (A), West Ham (H), Southampton (H), Man City (A), Burnley (H), Newcastle (A)

Like Bournemouth, Brighton’s season started with promise but tailed off sharply in 2019, almost costing the Seagulls their place in the top flight. A run of just two wins in 18 Premier League games ultimately spelled the end of Chris Hughton’s tenure as Brighton manager, with ex-Ostersunds boss Graham Potter installed as a replacement just eight days after the end of the Premier League season.

One of Potter’s most notable managerial achievements is the 2-1 victory secured by his Ostersunds side against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in February 2018. He will have to wait until early December to return there – the end of a nine game run of fixtures that also features games against Chelsea, Tottenham, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United. That run of matches is arguably the hardest they face all season, suggesting that points will need to be gained early to ensure they do not find themselves in the relegation zone in the run up to Christmas.

With only three signings so far, Potter looks set to largely rely on the players he inherited from Hughton. Despite having a relatively poor 2018/19, goalkeeper Mat Ryan should keep his place between the sticks. Of goalkeepers to play over 1000 minutes, only Jonas Lossl (62.4%) and Asmir Begovic (57.7%) had a lower save percentage than the Australian’s 63.8% in 2018/19. That is certainly a worrying statistic for a side that conceded 583 shots – only Fulham (587) and Burnley (653) had a worse record.

The regularity of Brighton’s shot concession did result in Ryan being amongst the top six goalkeepers for saves, despite his low save percentage. This means that Brighton are not particularly strong defensively, nor do they possess a top quality shot stopper in the same way as sides like West Ham do with Lukasz Fabianski.

Nonetheless, a total of 97 saves in 32 appearances did result in an average of 3.03 per game. In FPL terms, this effectively sees Ryan start every match somewhere between 2 and 3 points before a ball is kicked – 2 for a 60+ minute appearance and sometimes an additional 1 for every 3 saves. This is already well on course for the 3.55 points per match target of a £4.5m player, as explained in the ‘Value in FPL’ article released earlier this month.

Ryan also has an advantage over the other £4.5m goalkeeper options. He and David Button provide the only £8.5m pair which includes a first choice and backup option from the same club. This ensures a starting goalkeeper every week for the lowest possible spend as Ryan would be replaced by Button if he missed out through injury or otherwise. But the issue with Brighton is that clean sheets are likely to be a rarity unless Potter can make the Seagulls more organised defensively.

One area that could change that is the arrival of Matt Clarke from Portsmouth. In 2018/19, Brighton were not particularly adept in possession, completing just 14,109 passes – only Newcastle, Burnley and Cardiff managed fewer. As pointed out in an excellent thread by @seagull_rich on Twitter, not only is Clarke very comfortable with the ball at his feet, but fellow centre-back Shane Duffy and holding midfielder Dale Stephens are taking time to adapt to Potter’s passing system.

If Clarke and perhaps Davy Propper were utilised as a ball playing defender and deep lying playmaker respectively, Brighton would certainly be more effective at building attacks from the back. They would complete more passes, have more possession and crucially reduce the time the opposition have to launch their own attacks. However, the risk with being more progressive is that they lose possession near their own penalty area, leaving opponents one on one with Ryan.

Long-term, Potter will naturally seek to impose his preferred style but the swiftness of its imposition is unclear. Even top managers like Antonio Conte have waited several weeks before reverting to their usual methods – in his case it was a simple switch from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-3 that transformed a mediocre start into a title-winning campaign. Therefore at this stage, the only sure starters defensively are Mat Ryan, Lewis Dunk and perhaps Martin Montoya, with Davy Propper assume a playmaker role in midfield.

In attack, the situation is also a mixture of clarity and doubt. After a season hampered by injuries, Pascal Groß should be one of the certainties as the main creative force at the club. Groß proved his worth in his first season of Premier League football, as only Kevin De Bruyne (19) managed more than his 16 big chances created amongst Premier League players.

Those big chances were part of a total of 82 chances created across the season – only eight midfielders have managed more in either 2017/18 or 2018/19. At his best, Groß is clearly one of the most productive chance creators that the Premier League possesses and a return to that form would be a massive boost for a side that only bettered Huddersfield’s xG in the season just gone.

The other man to watch in Brighton’s attack is £18 million arrival Leandro Trossard. A total of 11 goals and 4 assists in 2018/19 demonstrates a very impressive return from a player that appeared in just 24 league matches, especially as it translated into 22 goals and 11 assists in 47 games in all competitions.

Forays into the Belgian market do typically have mixed success though and it would be wise to err on the side of caution when predicting how he will adapt to life in England’s top flight.

This transfer has most likely been sanctioned in order to ease the goalscoring burden on Glenn Murray, who netted 23 goals in the promotion season and a further 25 across 2017/18 and 2018/19 in the Premier League. Potter must decide between the goalscoring know-how of Murray or a more mobile forward in the form of Jurgen Locadia or Florin Andone. All three are likely to share game time, with Locadia and Andone most likely eating into Murray’s minutes more than last season, as the Englishman enters the closing stages of his playing career.

To summarise, the defensive issues that surfaced in the second half of 2018/19 must be resolved. There are three possible solutions to solve this – investment in the transfer market, extensive work on defensive team shape in training or increasing ball possession to reduce the regularity of opposition attacks. A combination of the second and third is the most likely, which may come at the cost of leaving out experienced pros like Duffy and Stephens.

Groß and Trossard will provide the main sparks in attack and should certainly be given more creative freedom in Potter’s system, in a similar way to his Swansea team featuring Bersant Celina and Daniel James did last season. Assuming Mat Ryan’s save percentage remains the same, reducing the number of shots faced is equally essential as scoring more goals, in Brighton’s quest for Premier League survival.

Stats from Transfermarkt, Fantasy Football Scout and Premier League

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