Are Brighton F.C The Real Deal?

This image is a derivative of BHA v FC Nantes pre season 03 08 2018-752.jpg by James Boyes (CC BY 2.0)

Brighton are the Premier League's best kept secret. 

In their first season back in the top-flight in 2017/2018, they finished in a modest 15th position, performing as expected based on their pre-season expectations. Their league standing decreased the following campaign, avoiding relegation by the barest of margins.

In that off-season however the appointment of Graham Potter turned their fortunes around entirely. They returned back to 15th place, which after the near cataclysmic season the year prior was deemed a major success. It was the next season though were the seeds of Potter's managerial excellence were sewn and which have since flourished.

On the surface, their 16th place league position last season could be deemed as another failure yet that wouldn't represent a true indication of how good they actually were. Expected points had them finishing on 61 points which was 20 points greater than what they actually earned and which would have place them 8th on the actual table and 5th where expected points were concerned. 

At some stage Brighton’s luck had to come good and it looks like it finally has. 

Five games into the new Premier League season and the Seagulls sit in 4th position and while the Stats Insider futures model is currently granting them just a 3.6% chance of staying there it's well worth appreciating how Brighton have got themselves here before asking whether they're indeed the real deal.

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Tactical Fluidity 

Graham Potter has a knack of setting up his teams to be very tough to break down, whilst also being highly dynamic and fluid going forward. 

This can be seen through his two previous stints with Ostersund and Swansea, as well as his aforementioned seasons with Brighton. 

This season, Potter has enjoyed success playing a variety of different formations. In their most recent win against Leicester - as well as their second outing against Watford, they set up in a 4-4-2, which played more of a 2-4-4. With the full backs spreading high and wide to maintain width, with both wingers pushing up and narrow to create overloads in the central part of the pitch. This is very similar to the way the Spanish national side played in their preparation for Euro 2020. However, Potter's predominant system is a 3-4-1-2 yet with an injury to key defensive cog Adam Webster this might have to go into hiding for a while. 

In Potter’s 3 at the back system, which has become synonymous with Brighton in recent times, they deploy their wing backs particularly high and wide, with their outside centre backs spreading wide to create passing triangles. This also involves a tight midfield pivot with one striker shifting wide to create both an overload on one side, and space for the likes of Leandro Trossard or Argentinean Alexis Mac Allister to make late runs into the box. 

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Defensively Solid 

With all this tactical flexibility and nous shown by Potter, one thing has remained the same, and that’s how tough Brighton are to break down. 

Whether it be 3 or 4 at the back, they’ve always had the ability to restrict space and close down the opposition in the most dangerous areas. This has come, not from flooding numbers behind the ball, but from manic pressure and restricting time on the ball. 

So far this season Brighton have pressed the opposition the second most times in the attacking third with 41 per-90 minutes and have the best pressure success rate with 32%. As well as this, Potter has drilled a tenacious mentality into his troops which denies the opposition any 2nd or 3rd opportunities on the ball which is why they have the 4th best percentage of tacklers dibbled with 42.9 and the second most tackles won with 13 per-90. 

This manic pressure is also indicated by the fact Brighton rank 3rd for the number of times they’ve dispossessed their opponent with 14.8 per 90. Potter’s rationale is that the best form of defence is attack, and rather than defending by flooding numbers behind the ball and playing negative football, Brighton defends by pressing efficiently once the opponent is in the attacking third. And this had two main benefits: Firstly, it conserves energy, as opposed to running around like headlines chooks at every opportunity while they have clear pressing triggers which they apply excellently. Secondly, this allows them to have numbers on the counterattack, which wouldn't be there should they ‘park the bus’. If you were to look at how Brighton defend through the prism of one player, then Yves Bissoumacertainly qualifies as this club’s poster child. How they managed to keep him in the transfer window is outstanding as he’s gradually proved himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in the EPL. All the traits that Brighton show off defensively can be seen through this man. He ranks 5th in the league for successful pressures with 43.7%, 4th in the league for tackles won with 13, and 4th in league for percentage of tacklers dibbled with 75%

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Controlling the game

Brighton being so good defensively is somewhat of a surprise considering how well they are at making sure that they don't have to defend. They rank 5th in the league for average possession with 56.6% and have completed the 5th most passes in the league with 444.4 per 90. 

The midfield double pivot which they have gone with for the majority of the year has been Bissouma and Adam Lallana, and is what provides Brighton so much balance. What Lallana offers is that attacking spark and creativity to complement Bissouma’s defensive destruction. Both are competent at playing various different types of passes, ranking in the top 10 for completion rate of short, long, and medium range passes. For a side that lacks ‘superstars’ in midfield, Potter has drilled this side to playing a fantastic brand of both disciplined and expansive football. 

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So, are the Seagulls they the real deal? 

Well, these are the hallmarks of a side which can stay at the top even when, perhaps on paper, they don't appear to belong there. 

Graham Potter is an absolute gem of a manager while they are one clinical goal scorer away from leaping from mid-table mediocrity to European contention on a consistent basis. 

If Potter can get them there with that focal point up-front, then you can conclusively say that Brighton is the real deal. Until then, time will tell but they are truly looking as menacing and as balanced as any side in the competition right now. 

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Ari Stamatakos

Ari Stamatakos is a high school student and aspiring writer who's passionate about the sports he loves. An Avid Carlton, Melbourne Victory and Chelsea Fan, he currently writes for Carlton fan page can check him out on twitter @Ari_Y_Stama

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