The 2020/21 Brighton & Hove Albion Season Preview
Having set club top-flight records last season, Brighton are gearing up for a fourth Premier League season, and a second season under deservedly popular boss Graham Potter. Donning kits which strongly nod to their 1983 season — their only other spell in the top flight, in a season where they made the FA cup final but simultaneously suffered relegation — Brighton will be hoping to achieve the feat that Jimmy Melia’s side were incapable of, and cement a 5th successive season in the top flight.
49 sides have played in the Premier League, with Brighton already surpassing 7 of those in games played and points won. For context, come the end of the season, Brighton will have played over 150 Premier League games, needing just three points to surpass Reading in the all-time Premier League table — the Albion currently have 117 points from 114 games, with they and the Royals having played the exact same number of games.
Brighton achieved points totals of 40, 36 and 41 respectively in their three previous Premier League campaigns, a total which has seen them avoid relegation relatively comfortably twice, though one can safely expect Graham Potter to have desires to reach an elevated points total next season and progress the club further.
Where do the numbers say Brighton will finish next season?
Importantly, there’s no indication whatsoever as to what the algorithms include which companies use to generate these tables and numbers; predictions will of course vary between companies dependent on what they measure and how they measure it, and fans can understandably be naturally quick to dismiss them if they spotlight their team as relegation threatened.
Pinnacle have projected Brighton to achieve 42.5 points next season, the exact same total that they have projected for Burnley. Infogol have the Albion down to finish 15th next season, the same spot they ended the 19/20 and the 17/18 seasons in. Their model predicts 41 points for the Albion, the same as they ended last season on. Importantly, Infogol have Brighton’s chances of relegation at less than 24%, with rivals Palace sitting at almost 30%.
Fixture Focus: The First 6 and Derby Dates
Looking at the same Infogol model, Brighton have one of the most favourable starts in the league. Although they face Chelsea and Manchester United inside their first 6, both of those fixtures are at the Amex, and the other four games include three sides who finished in the bottom 8 last season (Newcastle, Everton, Crystal Palace), in addition to newly promoted West Bromwich Albion.
With the exception of Everton, Brighton have taken points off all of their first 6 opponents in the corresponding fixtures, having beaten Manchester United, West Brom and Crystal Palace at the venues which they will face them at. On top of that, Brighton boast an unbeaten record against Newcastle in the Premier League, yet to concede a goal in this division at St James’, recording a near-700 pass possession masterclass when they made the trip to Tyneside last September.
The Albion have a pretty average opening day record in the Amex era; reading 3 wins, 1 draw and 5 losses, the games are typically low scoring affairs, with 6 of the 9 games involving under 2.5 goals and both teams scoring on just two occasions. That said, 3 of the 6 goals Brighton have scored on the opening day (Amex era) came under Potter at Watford last season, in the Albion’s most clinical finishing display of the season:
Opening day opponents Chelsea conceded the same number of goals as Brighton last season (54), though this was largely down to Kepa’s poor performances between the post, as he returned the lowest save percentage, conceding over 10 goals more than he was ‘expected’ to:
Chelsea’s expected goals last season was only 41.1, the 5th fewest of any side in the league, though their real Achilles heel was in defending set pieces; they conceded 13 goals from corners and indirect free kicks, with a whopping 8.2% of corners leading to goals, the worst of any Premier League side and the second worst in Europe’s big 5 leagues. Brighton’s only goal against Chelsea last season came from a set-piece, with Alireza Jahanbakhsh acrobatically converting to share the spoils.
A repeat of the result was seen in a recent pre-season friendly between the two sides, which featured the newly acquired Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner — a full match report, with FPL undertones, can be found here. Kepa Arrizabalaga featured for Chelsea, despite his consistent under-performing last season, and it is safe to say given their wastefulness in-front of goal last season, Brighton want to see his name on the team-sheet come 8pm on September 14th.
Across the last 3 seasons, Brighton’s first five games have shown similar patterns. In their debut Premier League season — 2017/18 — they won once, drew once, and lost three times, netting 4 and conceding 7, keeping a clean sheet on one occasion. Their 18/19 and 19/20 starts were identical, on both occasions they won 1 game, drew twice, and lost 2. Last season they scored 5 and conceded 7, with those figures 7 and 9 respectively in the 18/19 season. Although they are yet to blow any sides out the water at the start of the season, Brighton have shown the ability to earn points at home and away, as well as against top sides. Clean sheets are an area for improvement, having kept just 2 across the first 5 games of the last 3 seasons, both of which were away to Watford. That said, last season Brighton’s underlying numbers were promising:
Making the trip to Selhurst on matchday 5, the Albion host Palace at the Amex on February 20th, matchday 25. Potter will certainly be disappointed by the results in both fixtures last season, taking just 1 point from the two games, though the 2.3xG they created at Selhurst was their most in a single fixture last season, with the 1.7xG created in the home fixture also ranking inside the top 10.
The capture of Adam Lallana from league-winners Liverpool looks to be nothing short of a coup, with the England international particularly enjoying playing against Palace:
Fresh Faces: New Transfers and Loan Returners
Brighton have been busy early in the transfer window, bringing Joël Veltman and Adam Lallana to the South coast. Both bring Champions League and international pedigree, as well as positional versatility. Between them, they have over 60 Europa and Champions League appearances, with both capped on 20+ occasions for their respective national sides.
Costing less than a million pounds in transfer fees between them, Veltman and Lallana appear relatively risk-free as signings go, with both multidimensional from a position perspective; the Dutchman can operate as a centre-back or a right-back, with the Englishman playing most his Liverpool minutes at central midfield, though he is more than accomplished as an advanced midfielder, and can play out wide on either flank.
Adam Lallana has recorded 30 goals and 31 assists in the Premier League, a tally which comfortably surpasses Glenn Murray’s 37 goals and 6 assists in the division, showing just how capable the 32-year-old is of performing at the highest level. On the contrary, Veltman has kept clean sheets in over 100 of his 259 career games, highlighting how able he is at stopping players like Lallana, whilst simultaneously demonstrating a very decent ball playing and progression output.
Given the extent to which Brighton have recruited and utilised U23 players under Potter, it seems sensible to offset this with more experienced players, particularly ones whom offer value across the pitch. Potter’s tactical flexibility was highlighted in a season review article:
“Averaging total minutes into matches (90 minutes per match), he used the 4–4–2 formation for marginally over 10 games, the 4–2–3–1 for nearly 8, the 3–4–3 more than 7 times and the 4–3–3 on just under 5 occasions.”
Aside from new transfers, Brighton are blessed to see the return of plenty of loanees, mostly from the EFL. Two in particular stand out for playing important roles next season; firstly, Christian Walton is back as a number two, having spent time at Wigan and Blackburn in recent seasons. It is hoped that his injury against Chelsea is not too severe, as the Kernow-born ‘keeper was deserving of the chance to play back-up to Ryan.
Unless you have been living under a rock or in Croydon, you’ll be aware just how good Ben White has been at Leeds. Amid an extensive transfer debacle about where White will play next season, for now he remains a Brighton player, supposedly poised to sign a new contract. Potter has made clear his plans to play the ex-Peterborough defender, doing just so alongside Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster against Chelsea.
It is uncertain the role that Viktor Gyökeres or Jayson Molumby will play next season, as both had useful loans at St. Pauli and Millwall respectively. The likes of Warren O’Hora, Taylor Richards, Leo Østigård, Matt Clarke, Ryan Longman and Percy Tau have all already had loans confirmed for next season. Amid all this uncertainty, one thing is for sure — Brighton are overflowing with youth talent right now; you can read about them all here.
The New Boys
Brighton have already faced two of the three sides promoted from the Championship in the Premier League; they were on either end of a comeback in the 18/19 season against Fulham, recovering from 2 goals down to draw at the Amex, before bottling a 2–0 lead on the Thames on a Tuesday night, eventually losing 4–2. Glenn Murray converted all four goals against the Cottagers that season, though the veteran is again expected to make a limited contribution this season, with his ‘replacement’ Neal Maupay impressing in his debut season.
The Albion’s first ever Premier League win, and goals for that matter, came against West Brom at the Amex in the 17/18 season. Pascal Gross was involved in all 3 goals in the victory, bagging a brace before setting up Tomer Hemed for the third.
Brighton also beat the Baggies in the 18/19 season, though were pushed firstly to a replay and then to extra-time by the then-Championship side in an FA Cup third-round replay. That man Glenn Murray scored twice that day, too, with Brighton victorious by the same score-line as at the Amex the season before, a result which contributed to a cup run that saw the Seagulls soar to the semi-finals at Wembley.
Leeds’ 16-year absence from the Premier League has finally been ended, following their title-winning campaign — Ben White was just 6 years old when they last kicked a ball in this division. Their promotion should be excellent news for Brighton, as they boast an impressive record against the Yorkshire outfit. They are unbeaten in all six games against Leeds at the Amex, only recording a longer unbeaten home run against Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield (7/7 games).
Ones to Watch
Tariq Lamptey (’00) — Right-back
The 19-year-old burst onto the scene in the last 9 games of the 19/20 season. A rapid right-back, Lamptey clocked speeds of over 35km/h on multiple occasions and was a regular feature, appearing in 8 games, 7 of which he started. His displacement of Montoya was confirmed with the Spaniard’s departure to former club Betis, leaving Lamptey as the primary right-back option; new signing Veltman and U23 Steven Alzate should provide sufficient cover there.
Lamptey’s ability to translate speed into attacking output is crucial; the rate at which he intercepts and dribbles the ball is considerable, and his success rate in dribbles is particularly immense. Looking beyond purely the domestic scene next season, Lamptey is sure to be knocking on the door of the England U21 set-up, not that England are hard pushed for quality right-backs at any level.
Yves Bissouma (’96) — Central Midfielder
Another key figure for Brighton at the tail-end of last season, Bissouma has undergone a real style transformation under Graham Potter. Initially a transition midfielder under Hughton, primarily responsible for launching counter-attacks through carries, the Malian has matured his game; Bissouma is now capable of playing in deeper areas and building attacks through progressive passes, whilst maintaining an impressive dribbling output. Alongside this, Bissouma has progressed his ball-winning abilities, becoming one of Brighton’s most frequent pressers and tacklers.
Whilst there is room to develop his end product, Bissouma showed he is more than capable of goal-scoring, firing home in fine fashion against Burnley on the final day, for his first Premier League goal. The internationally-capped Malian is sure to benefit from training and playing alongside Adam Lallana.
Aaron Connolly (’00) — Striker
Having broken onto the scene with a home debut brace against Spurs, Connolly found it difficult to recapture his goal-scoring form, eventually finding the net again for the winner against Burnley on the final day. Whilst 3 goals and 1 assist is by no means an exceptional return, Graham Potter is pleased with the development of the Irishman, recognising the role he plays:
“”He has contributed to wins, he’s contributed to team performance when he’s played even when he’s not scored. He’s played his role for us as a team.” — Graham Potter on Aaron Connolly
Connolly created the match-winner for Maupay against Arsenal, a goal which was a turning point in Brighton’s season. Additionally, the youngster is an exceptional winner of fouls; of Premier League players with 900+ minutes last season, he ranked 7th for fouls won per 90 (2.71). He won 9 fouls leading to shots, the most of any Brighton player; those fouls included winning the free-kick for Pascal Gross’ opener against Everton, as well as both of Neal Maupay’s penalties last season, one of which came in that Everton game.
In the pre-season friendly against Chelsea, Connolly won the penalty for Gross’ equaliser. Only Neal Maupay recorded more final third pressures per game than the Irishman, showing that the numbers really do support Potter’s observations.
Given more minutes than Glenn Murray last season, expect to see Connolly progress this season. He has all the attributes to not only succeed at the top level, but more importantly in a Graham Potter system.
Women’s and U23 sides
Of course, the men’s side are not the only top-flight side Brighton have; the women finished 9th in the WSL last season, Aileen Whelan finishing top scorer with 5 goals. Impressively, they beat Crystal Palace women 3–0 away from home in the FA Cup. At the Amex in November, they won again by a 3–0 score-line, with Lea Le Garrec’s long-range strike the pick of the bunch in their victory over Birmingham women.
The U23s impressed yet again in the PL2, finishing third for a second-successive season, having been promoted via the playoffs in the 2017/18 season. No side won more games, recorded more away wins, converted a higher percentage of shots, won more games when drawing at half time or scored more goals than Simon Rusk’s side. They were so good, in-fact, a whole thread was dedicated to the numbers behind their season:
The 2020/21 season offers an abundance of promise and potential for all three of Albion’s sides, whom will all be looking to build on strong foundations that they have built in their respective top tiers. For season-long statistical coverage, please follow the twitter page, and for those who would like to unlock exclusive content and support the page, you can do so over on the Patreon.
Here’s to another great season, up the Albion!