17:45 KO (BST); Saturday 12th August; The Amex Stadium (Brighton, England) BT Sport 1
Brighton join the Premier League to play top-flight football for the first time in 34 years and only the fifth time in their history. To help adapt to their new environment they have invested nearly £50m in new players during this summer which includes signings that broke their transfer record twice within the last four days.
As an unknown entity and a popular choice to return to the Championship at the earliest opportunity, they will face an early test of their credentials when Manchester City arrive in town this weekend.
While many predict that this game could be a clash between the teams who ultimately finish top and bottom of the table come the end of the season, Pep Guardiola will be aware that many people predicted a similar forecast for his team at this stage last year.
Pep suffered a trophy-less season for the first time in his managerial career and there will be considerable pressure on him to deliver silverware in this campaign and with an opening fixture against a newly promoted side, the weight of expectation will be evident from the first minute of the new season for him and his players.
Last Time Out
BRIGHTON 2 – 3 Atletico Madrid (Friendly)
Brighton fell to an 88th minute strike as their final friendly gave them a first taste of defeat from a busy summer schedule. It was a strong Atletico Madrid side which they faced on their home ground and it was a test against premium opponents which will be useful in preparing them for Premier opponents set to closely follow.
The match saw the best and the worst of new keeper Mat Ryan who made some stunning saves but was culpable for conceding a soft goal just before half-time. With four of the five goals being scored after the break, it was a thrilling encounter for the big crowd who gathered to watch their team.
They were also given hope when first Pascal Groß, then substitute Steve Sidwell equalised for the home side in what was a competitive match. With Madrid enjoying the majority of possession, it was a thorough test for the Seagulls defence, however, moments of attack and the addition of new signings will leave them with a small sense of excitement for what lies ahead.
MANCHESTER CITY 3 – 0 West Ham United (The Super Match)
An impressive display saw City cruise to a comfortable victory in which both South American strikers found the net. Guardiola named a strong starting line-up for their final friendly and while they faced an under-strength West Ham side, they certainly looked like a team ready for the new season to begin.
Dominating possession throughout has become expected of Guardiola’s side, however, there was also a sharpness and sense of purpose about their play in this match. Following goals from Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Agüero, Raheem Sterling’s late volley means he scored for a third consecutive game which City coincidently won each of by a three-goal margin.
There was plenty of good news for Pep to bask in after the final whistle, especially impressive performances from both Danilo and Kevin de Bruyne. Bernardo Silva was also given his first taste of life in a sky blue shirt following an extended summer break, while Brahim Diaz and Phil Foden were also introduced into the game to collect valuable minutes of experience.
Sam Baldock (calf) and Beram Kayal (leg) are the only expected players to be unavailable for the Seagulls’ Premier League debut. While the Seagulls’ most recent signing Jose Izquierdo will not feature this weekend as he awaits international clearance, Mathew Ryan, Markus Suttner, Davy Propper and Pascal Groß are all expected to jump straight into the starting line-up for Hughton’s team.
Manchester City Lineup
Benjamin Mendy (thigh) is the only player likely to be unavailable for selection, however, Ilkay Gündogan’s lack of games during pre-season due to a knee injury will make it difficult for him to force his way into Guardiola’s plans.
Elsewhere in the squad, there is an abundance of talented players for Pep to choose his first team of the season from and it could depend more on who is fittest rather than who he views as being in his theoretical first-choice line-up.
Key Battle: Kevin De Bruyne vs Pascal Groß
De Bruyne was one of City’s most used players last year which in a packed squad of star players, goes some way to underlying the confidence his manager places in him.
This summer has seen the Belgian step up the level of his performances with Guardiola admitting that De Bruyne’s confidence is now stratospheric and he is a better player for it. With David Silva expected to play a deeper role, De Bruyne will become chief playmaker and looks like he may take some catching this year.
Brighton’s answer to this was to sign the Bundesliga’s most creative player of last year. Having created 95 key passes through the course of the season, Pascal Groß may not be a household name in England, but that could be about to change as the season gets under way.
Whether Hughton ultimately uses him in midfield or as a supporting striker is yet to be seen, but they have added a combative player who can play cultured passes and he will certainly fit into the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.
New faces amongst new faces
Chris Hughton has overseen his club sink almost £50m into new players for their top-flight charge which will see plenty of new faces in the starting line-up for the Premier League’s new boys.
While an influx in quality was felt to be greatly needed for the South coast team, it will invariably take some time to get them playing in harmony and in tune with Hughton’s orchestrations. With both Propper and new winger Izquierdo only just arriving this week, it will also give them no time to bond with their new teammates off the field ahead of the opening match.
How quick these new players are able to adapt to both their new team and the demands of the league will be a huge test for Hughton who has shown himself to be a top-class manager after taking a second club up to the top tier. Hopefully for all involved, he will be given a longer period to prove himself in this division than he was afforded at Newcastle United six years ago.
An embarrassment of riches
While Brighton have carefully spent £50m on bringing five new faces (six if you count the loan capture of Brown from Chelsea) into their starting line-up, Guardiola has been playing fantasy football with cheat mode enabled.
What this effectively means for City is that they are now the proud owners of a deep squad of talent with two players of quality covering each position.
What this actually means for City though, is that they will need to carefully rotate their stars to both keep them happy and in peak form. Players like Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Yaya Touré, Ilkay Gündogan and Benjamin Mendy are all missing from the starting line-up I predicted above and it’s likely that some players will become frustrated at a lack of game time as the season progresses, especially in a World Cup year.
This could be part of the reason why their team began to fade last season after making an impressive start. It also underlines the difference between these two teams and could be a key factor in determining whether Guardiola’s second season brings the success that pressure will likely demand of his squad.
A new formation
City have been playing a 3-5-2 over much of the summer and it is a new system which has been proving fruitful for the Citizens. While the extra centre-back provides a good solution to last year’s biggest weakness in their team, it also allows for plenty of attacking midfielders in the side to allow the ball to flow around the pitch.
One interesting side effect to this is that while it allows both Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Agüero to play comfortably in the same side, there is less space for their more forward-thinking wide attackers.
Having experimented with Sane as a wing-back it still looks likely that both he and Sterling will feature less for City this season than they did last, despite being two of City’s most consistent performers.
What is more probable is that Guardiola will employ different formations and combinations of players depending on the opposition that they’re facing. This will almost certainly provide it’s own unique set of problems in the long-term though.
PREDICTION: Brighton & Hove Albion 0 – 3 Manchester City
It will be a big ask for Brighton to shut the door on City’s assembled strike force, especially considering Guardiola’s team were so adept at beating sides towards the bottom of the table last season. While I can’t envisage Brighton keeping a clean sheet, neither can I see them managing to out-score their opponents on Saturday evening.
For Brighton it will be a good test of character and level of ability for their players. For City it will more likely be a chance to experiment further with a new system and the players roles within this formation.
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