After a successful first season in the Premier League, Brighton have been busy reinforcing the squad with depth and a lower average age. This has seen many of the team who played a part in the 16/17 promotion season move on, most of whom were in their late 20s or 30s. It will be important to integrate the new players quickly and the 25-man squad now has a diverse mix that now includes players from sixteen different nations.
Fans should expect Hughton to continue to use his preferred 4-4-1-1 formation with Pascal Gross playing just off the striker to link the midfield and attack, though Locadia or Bissouma may also be deployed in this role. It will be interesting to see whether Hughton gives either of the two central midfielders, Davy Propper, Dale Stephens (0 league goals between them last season) or new deputy Yves Bissouma any more license to move up the pitch during attacking phases. Particularly in away matches, the Brighton manager opts to restrict both centre midfielders in order to maintain a rigid defensive structure.
Wing play is an area that Brighton try to utilise; Pascal Gross often drifts out into wide areas to create a 2v1 or 3v2 situation when a fullback joins the attack. Albion will be hoping that the addition of Bernardo can bring a greater balance to the team’s attacking wing play, which is an area that last season’s first choice left back, Gaetan Bong, was generally unable to influence. Deadline day signing and former Barca man Martin Montoya should also provide extra thrust on the right-hand side in place of veteran Bruno.
Glenn Murray – who did well to return 12 goals at the age of 34 – will start the season as 1st choice striker owing to pre-season injuries that have hampered Florin Andone and Jurgen Locadia. However, at 34 years and whilst generally being clinical, Murray is limited both physically in terms of speed and technically in his hold up play, which has been frustrating in instances where the team were trying to launch counter-attacks. Both Locadia and Andone will be hoping to improve Brighton’s attacking threat and chance creation.
Alternative Formation Options:
As mentioned, 4-4-1-1 will once again be Brighton’s favoured formation, it should – once again – bring the best out of talisman Gross. In away games, wing play will be important to this set-up if both central midfielders continued to be shackled by Hughton, which may lead to a change of shape.
An alternative formation that Hughton may choose to adopt is a 4-3-3. Last season, this tactic was used on a few occasions and it involves Gross dropping into a deeper midfield role to accompany Propper and Stephens. This formation makes it easier for Gross to get on the ball and allows Hughton to give the wide players more license to attack, and it could incorporate a wide forward, such as Jurgen Locadia.
This would enable the Seagulls to get the more creative trio of Gross, Locadia and Andone on the pitch at the same time, which cannot be achieved using a 4-4-1-1. The 4-3-3 also lends an extra man in midfield which is useful to soak up the pressure in away games.
Areas to watch:
Brighton conceded from 16 corners last season, a league high. This is a clear area to improve. It is surprising given the aerial dominance of Dunk and Duffy in open play. The team will also be keen to improve their attacking returns from set plays, given the reliable delivery of Gross.
Centre back Shane Duffy, who made the most headed clearances last season, is a culprit in both boxes during set plays and has been critical of his own defending from defensive corners. Lewis Dunk will always be Hughton’s first choice centre-back when fit, but new signing and Nigerian international Leon Balogun will be keen to impress early on, so it will be interesting to see if Duffy is punished if he makes any further defensive errors from set-plays this year.
Change of strategy in away games:
Brighton have gone 15 away games without a win, scoring just 5 goals in the process. Their home form was enough to achieve safety last year, but in the long run, it is risky to rely solely upon home form to claim points. Brighton’s set up in away games is very negative, and the team struggles to create high-quality goal scoring chances. The midfield and defence are set up in a rigid shape intending to prevent the opposition from finding space in between the lines or creating 1v1s on the flanks. The usual set up leaves Gross and Murray isolated and starved of touches.
Brighton have a couple of realistic options which could change their fortunes. If the team continue to sit deep in away games, then a more efficient counter-attack is required, which must see Glenn Murray dropped. The team need to move up the field quickly on the counter-attack, and neither the link up play nor the pace of Murray is conducive to this.
Last season’s attacking returns on the road – where Murray played the majority of games – are an example of this. The second option is to add more mobility to the midfield. Hughton may achieve this by switching to a 4-3-3 or by utilizing Yves Bissouma, who is more dynamic than Davy Propper and has shown in flashes that he can dribble the ball forward effectively.
Particularly in away games against a similar level of opposition, Hughton must defer from his usual tactic in order to improve results. Zero shots on target in their first away game at Watford highlights this.
New Attacking Flair:
With just one of ten new signings in the first starting XI of the season vs Watford in gameweek one, Hughton will be looking to integrate many of the new faces into the first team over the next month. Once fit, Andone is expected to replace Murray and marquee signing Jahanbahksh, will contend with Knockaert for a place in the starting XI on the right wing.
Jahanbahksh was the top scorer in Holland last season, despite playing on the wing for FC Twente. The left-footed Iranian will be utilized from the right wing, where a lot of his goals last year came from cutting inside onto his favored side. Hughton will be looking for more consistency and incision from Jahanbahksh than was provided last year by Anthony Knockaert.
The Frenchman is a good ball carrier but his decision making often lets him down once he has moved the ball up to the edge of the opponent’s penalty area; either his crossing repeatedly lacks the quality required to pick out a teammate or he will delay the final pass, enabling the opposition to get men behind the ball.