Brighton: 2018/19 Premier League Preview
Chris Hughton managed to keep newly-promoted Brighton in the Premier League last season. Can he do it again?
Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
On the face of it, Brighton and Hove Albion fans will consider last season to have been a success.
Newly-promoted from the Championship, they managed to pull themselves out of the relegation zone in England’s top division by the fourth week of the season, not once returning into the bottom three from that point onwards.
However, that isn’t to say that it wasn’t nerve-wracking at times. In the end, the Seagulls ended up seven points above the drop zone, three of which came from a first win in 36 years against Manchester United in the later stages of the tournament: hardly an expected result.
Where last season saw three of the worst relegation candidates in recent history in Swansea City, Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion, this season is not likely to be quite so kind to Chris Hughton. Although Cardiff City look set to go down, seemingly already planning their push for promotion next season, there are very few weak sides in the Premier League this time around.
Brighton will take heart from Burnley, of course, who managed to cement their place in the division in a second season, picking up a place in Europa League qualifying whilst doing so. However, Brighton can feel more confident still, given their transfer activity over the summer, where a number of astute signings have been brought in from smaller markets around Europe.
Safety is certainly not assured by any stretch and yet Brighton’s approach seems savvy enough to suggest they could well find themselves in the Premier League by the time the competition ends next year.
2017/18 Season Review
Where Brighton succeeded in the Premier League last season was in avoiding those slumps that can be so problematic to the smaller sides. In fact, across the 38 games of the season, they only lost three times consecutively on one occasion early in December.
Much of this was the result of Brighton’s impressive home form. During the season, Hughton saw his side pick up 29 of their 40 points at the AMEX Arena, making the South Coast enclave a tough prospect for even their more prestigious visitors.
Whilst much of the leg-work for their eventual safety was gained through wins against relegation rivals, Brighton managed to pick up points at home against West Ham, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United.
Manchester United would be less forgiving in the quarter-final of the FA Cup, beating Brighton at Old Trafford to prevent them from continuing their impressive run in the world’s oldest domestic cup.
The Carabao Cup was less successful. A win in the second round against Barnet saw Brighton travel down the road to neighbours Bournemouth where they eventually lost 1-0 after extra time.
Brighton’s recruitment this season has received plaudits from a number of pundits who have been impressed at the way the club are thinking carefully about how to generate value by bringing in players from smaller markets around Europe.
For many fans, the names brought in will be unfamiliar: Percy Tau was brought in from Mamelodi Sundowns for a fee of £2.8 million and Florin Andone joins him in Brighton after signing from Deportivo La Coruna. Tau will likely head off on loan so it’s clear that the club are thinking carefully about building for the future.
Another signing for the future is Yves Bissouma. Brought in from Lille, fans will want to see him breaking into the first team. However, with Davy Propper and Pascal Gross ahead of him, Bissouma will be slowly blooded into the side as the season commences.
There are, though, some more high profile names arriving at the AMEX Arena off the back of performances in the World Cup that will have put them on the radars of the Brighton fans. Nigerian Leon Balogun and Iranian Alireza Jahanbakhsh both come in with international pedigree.
Jahanbakhsh, in particular, could be an exciting prospect, having topped the goal-scoring charts in the Eredivisie: the first Asian player to do so in the league’s history.
A more experienced head arrives at the club in the form of Bernardo, joining from RB Leipzig for an undisclosed fee. He will offer Hughton a little more depth in the full-back areas.
Brighton haven’t lost any really big names during the summer window.
Last week, Sam Baldock left for Reading for a fee which could rise to almost £5 million, which, given Connor Goldson’s £3 million move to Rangers was the next most lucrative deal of the summer, was comfortably the Seagull’s biggest piece of business so far. Goldson will be joined at Ibrox by Jamie Murphy.
The other notable departures were Dutch goalkeeper Tim Krul on a free to Norwich and the retirements of Liam Rosenior and Steve Sidwell.
Although Chris Hughton shifted between a 4-1-4-1 formation, a 4-2-2-2 formation and a 4-4-1-1 formation last season, the structural similarities between them are so small that you can expect to see some iteration of a four-man defence with a five-man midfield behind Glenn Murray.
Australian Mat Ryan will take his place between the sticks again and he will be shielded by a centre-back pairing of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk with Leon Balogun able to deputise. They’ll be flanked by two of Gaetan Bong, Ezequiel Schelotto, captain Bruno and new arrival Bernardo.
With Pascal Gross the beating heart of Brighton’s attack, he’ll be allowed a free role behind Glenn Murray. If he isn’t allowed to push forward into a number 10 position, he’ll be flanked by Davy Propper, who will have the added protection of Dale Stephens behind him.
In the wide areas, Alireza Jahanbakhsh will be challenging Anthony Knockaert and Jose Izquierdo for the starting berth.
Up front, Murray will find himself understudied by Jurgen Locadia and Florin Andone.
The Key Question: How much has the division changed?
If there is one thing that has changed about the Premier League in recent years, it is the slow creep of improvement that has seen promoted teams much more likely to stay in the division than not.
Where it used to be the case that you could at least expect the promoted teams to flirt with relegation, what we are now seeing is the teams who have failed to prepare adequately who are dropping down into the Championship.
Last season, Huddersfield Town and Brighton — both widely tipped to go down — ended up staying up, whilst the third member of their promotion cohort, Newcastle United, snuck into the top half.
That was last season, though. Brighton are now in the group of teams who must continue to think carefully about their future for fear of a demotion.
And just look at the teams coming up. Yes, Cardiff City are already inviting the obituaries but Fulham and Wolves have invested well over the summer.
It would hardly be surprising if the other two relegation spots are filled by clubs who were in the Premier League last season. Brighton will hope that they still have enough to stay on the right side of eighteenth place.
It’s hard to see the best case scenario being much more than improving on last season’s 15th-place finish. That said, if the players brought in click and Hughton continues to impress then there is a strong likelihood that this could happen.
The dreaded phrase: relegation battle. Brighton fans will be hoping that Cardiff City and one of the other promoted sides struggle. They will fancy themselves favourites ahead of Huddersfield to avoid the drop. But the threat is very real.
It’s hard to see Brighton as being amongst the three worst teams in the division especially with their summer investment. However, it’s also hard to differentiate between the teams at the bottom of the division so it could go either way. Expect them to stay up but only just.
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