With the 2020/21 Premier League season on the horizon, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Brighton and their prospects in the upcoming campaign.
Of the teams participating in the Premier League in the 2020/21 season, the team that has spent the least amount of time in the highest tier of English football is Brighton and Hove Albion.
They have just been in the top-flight for seven of their 119-year history; three of those have come in as many terms since their arrival to the Premier League in 2017/18. Before then, Brighton spent four years in the top tier of English football from 1979 to 1983, finishing dead last in 1982/83.
They have have endured a roller-coaster of a ride in the past decade, coming back to the Championship from League One in 2011, most of the credit for which goes to former chairman Dick Knight, current owner Tony Bloom and Gus Poyet off the pitch, and the leadership of Lewis Dunk on it.
Last season, the Seagulls established themselves as one of the most entertaining teams in the Premier League under new manager, Graham Potter. The Hard Tackle has the honour of previewing Brighton as they head into their fourth straight season in the Premier League.
Prelude – The Backdrop
As Brighton went into their third straight season in the Premier Leagues since returning, there were not too many people impressed by the team. It was a relatively thin squad on paper – both in terms of quantity and quality with the exception of a few solid defenders.
Additionally, they had just hired a new manager – Graham Potter – to lead the first-team. Potter, despite having an impressive reputation from his time with Ostersund and Swansea City, was deemed to be inexperienced for the Premier League.
However, as the season started, Brighton developed a clear identity as a team who was wanted to play fluid, fast, possession-based football. They were not afraid to take the game to the opposition without changing their philosophy. There were several games throughout the season that stand out as an example of this, but the 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at the Amex Stadium is probably the best of the lot.
The Seagulls also managed to do the double over Arsenal, winning both games 2-1, the latter of which was a comeback from 1-0 down, with Neal Maupay hitting the winner at the 95th minute.
Life after the restart, though, was not kind to Brighton, as they failed to win six games out of the nine they played. They would have fallen straight into the relegation battle if not for a couple of clutch draws against Leicester City and Southampton. Brighton finished the season at 15th, courtesy of a 2-1 win over Burnley on the final matchday.
Brighton have had a relatively busy transfer window so far and clearly want to improve on their impressive 2019/20 campaign. They have made some changes to their team, adding both first-team players and squad options, to enhance their depth.
The most significant of these arrivals has come in the form of UEFA Champions League and Premier League winner Adam Lallana, who joins the Seagulls on a free transfer after his six-year stint with Liverpool.
— Adam Lallana (@officialAL20) August 31, 2020
The Englishman is capable of providing cover for multiple positions, including attacking midfield, defensive midfield and if need be, on the wing. He started in the no. 10 role in Brighton’s pre-season friendly against Chelsea, and is likely to play there over the course of the upcoming season.
Another potentially game-changing signing has been that of Joel Veltman from Ajax for a fee of £1 million. The Dutchman played 179 games across eight years for the Eredivisie champions, coming back into the side as a starter last year after the departure of Matthijs de Ligt, playing alongside Daley Blind at the heart of the defence.
Brighton have also completed the transfer of Jensen Weir from Wigan Athletic for £500,000 and add-ons in order to aid with Wigan’s financial trouble after the Latics went under administration this year.
After spending a year on loan at Leeds United, Brighton have welcomed back Ben White, who has also signed a four-year extension with the club. White was one of the best defenders in the Championship last season, helping Leeds secure promotion to the Premier League and has since been linked with a number of top clubs in England.
Aaron Mooy has left the Seagulls to join Shanghai SIPG in a £4 million deal, nine months after completing a permanent transfer from Huddersfield Town. The Australian had initially joined on loan from Huddersfield and was given a three-year deal due to his notable performances across the park.
Backup centre-back Shane Duffy has also departed, joining Celtic on a season-long loan deal. Despite this move, it leaves Brighton with five players who can cover in the central defensive role, four of whom started the game together against Chelsea.
Another player who was pivotal in Brighton’s promotion-securing campaign – Anthony Knockaert – has completed his permanent transfer to Fulham. In 42 appearances in the Championship last season, Knockaert scored three goals and set up an additional four for his teammates. He also created 12 big chances (joint 7th-highest in the league), playing 1.4 key passes per game.
Martin Montoya lost his starting spot to Tariq Lamptey towards the end of the 2019/20 season and has since joined Real Betis on a free transfer. The Spaniard spent six months on loan at the Seville outfit, before joining Valencia and then Brighton in 2018. Glenn Murray hardly featured for Brighton last season and has joined Watford on a season-long loan deal in a bid to play regular football.
Brighton’s journey in the 2020/21 season starts with them playing hosts to Chelsea at the Amex Stadium in what will be a repeat of the recent pre-season friendly. This fixture, last season, finished 1-1 courtesy of a stunning equaliser by Alireza Jahanbakhsh in the 84th minute.
Even if the Seagulls manage to somehow get points off of a rejuvenated Chelsea, Brighton will have to face Manchester United and Everton on home and away turf, respectively, soon after. Gameweek 5 will be their first pivotal fixture, when they face Crystal Palace, who could be battling for similar positions on the Premier League table in the upcoming season.
Brighton failed to win any of their two games against the Eagles last season. The Hard Tackle has predicted Crystal Palace to save themselves by the skin of their teeth, finishing 16th, primarily due to their little activity in the transfer window.
The fixtures will continue to come fast and hard for the Seagulls as they take on fellow potential relegation battlers and namesake West Bromwich Albion in Gameweek 6. Soon after, though, Brighton will have to take on Liverpool, Southampton and Leicester City in three consecutive games starting from the end of November till mid-December.
— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) August 20, 2020
The festive period is going to be relatively more comfortable for them, but then they will face Arsenal, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Manchester City, all three of whom will be looking for a spot in the top six.
After facing Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in back-to-back gameweeks, Brighton will come up against Burnley and Aston Villa on Gameweek 23 and 24, before visiting Selhurst Park to lock horns with Crystal Palace.
If this fixture list does not seem tricky enough, Brighton will face a season-defining seven matchdays starting from the first week of March. In these games, Brighton will have to face teams that all finished above them last season. This starts with Leicester City on Gameweek 27 and then Southampton, Newcastle United, Manchester United, Everton, Chelsea and finally Sheffield United.
The Seagulls will end the Premier League on 23rd May, with games against Manchester City and Arsenal to bring their campaign to an end. Let us take a look at the players who are likely to come up clutch for them this season.
Despite only signing for them less than a month ago, there are few who can argue that Adam Lallana is not an excellent addition to the Brighton squad. He was an essential part of Liverpool’s trophy-laden run of the last two years, providing depth in multiple positions across midfield.
Brighton struggled to create goal-scoring chances, especially as Pascal Gross’s form kept declining as the 2019/20 season went on. Lallana is a creative presence in the final third and has the ability to play defence-splitting passes every now and then. He also makes runs from deep to attack the ball and hit crosses on the volley or through headers.
Lewis Dunk has not only been Brighton’s most important player since their arrival to the top tier of English football, he has also been one of the best centre-halves in the Premier League during this time. The Englishman boasts of excellent positioning ability and despite his 6’3″ lanky frame, he has the pace to close down most attackers.
Apart from his extremely commendable defensive prowess, Dunk also contributes directly to a goal every now and then. He has scored 19 goals and has provided 14 assists in nine years with Brighton across three tiers of English football, including three goals and as many assists last season. One to consider, FPL managers?
In the last two seasons, Brighton & Hove Albion have broken their club-record signing four times, three of which came last season in the form of Adam Webster, Leandro Trossard and Neal Maupay. All three contributed significantly across the campaign, but it was Maupay who came up clutch time and again for White and Blues.
Maupay finished the season with ten goals, ending as the top scorer for the club, and three assists. This haul of goals included an 80th-minute and a 95th-minute winner, both against Arsenal on home and away turf, respectively. At the moment, the Frenchman is Brighton’s most substantial hope in attack with Aaron Connolly blowing hot and cold as the season went on. Any injury to him could derail their entire season.
In one season at the club, Graham Potter has managed to transform Brighton’s entire personality from a team that used to sit back and hit on the counter to a side that is not afraid to play bold and take the game to the opposition. They did not always have the results to back that up, but that was also because Potter was dealing with a very thin squad that fell to fatigue in the last few games of the season.
This season, however, Brighton have managed to bolster their squad and despite potentially facing more formidable opponents this season than last, it will not be surprising to see them finish a lot higher than they did last season.
The addition of experienced players in the form of Adam Lallana and Joel Veltman could prove to be the deciding factor in the season, especially to maintain morale during their streak of robust games. That mixed with the youth and energy of youngsters like Jensen Weir, Aaron Connolly, Leandro Trossard and Neal Maupay could turn out to be precisely what the doctor ordered.
THT Prediction: 15th
Author Prediction: 12th