This preview appears in the August 2021 edition of FourFourTwo.
There are few phrases that strike fear into the heart of Graham Potter like ‘expected goals’. Brighton’s inability to finish enough of the myriad opportunities they created last season became something of a running joke on social media, but with relegation a real possibility until early May, it’s unlikely that those in the corridors of power at the Amex found it very funny.
The former Swansea and Ostersund boss couldn’t have done much more himself to propel the Seagulls towards their long-term aim of being a top-10 club. Even without his first-choice wing-backs of Tariq Lamptey and Solly March for nearly half the season, Potter’s misfiring team could have been playing European football this year if they had scored the number of goals the underlying metrics say they should have. They left a whopping 20 points out on the pitch, which would have tied them for 7th (or even as high as 4th in some calculations).
The south-coast side would have been in much deeper trouble were it not for their rookie Spanish keeper Robert Sanchez and all-English defensive trio Lewis Dunk (pictured below), Adam Webster and new Arsenal singing Ben White (with honourable mentions for Joel Veltman and Dan Burn). Only Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and the two Manchester clubs leaked fewer goals.
This combination of solid foundations and flowing creativity should give Brighton supporters plenty to look forward to, but the fact the Seagulls’ profligacy lasted all season suggests it’s not simply a case of regressing towards the mean.
Extending Danny Welbeck’s stay is a smart bit of business, even if he’s only part of the puzzle. You just have to look at the effect Ollie Watkins had on Aston Villa’s league position to see what a few more goals could do for the Albion’s fortunes – Neal Maupay top scored with a mere eight. Brighton can’t compete financially with clubs like Villa and West Ham, but it is their season-to-season improvement that Potter’s youthful outfit will try to emulate.
Of course, every team wants a 20-goal-a-season finisher, which makes them rather hard to come by, particularly on a COVID-constrained budget as tight as Brighton’s. But from the progressive playing style to the state-of-the-art training ground, everything else on the Sussex coast seems in good shape. With a bit more luck, some better finishing and that Ben White money in their back pocket, the Seagulls might start looking more up than down.
The five-point plan
1 Become flat-track bullies
Last season Brighton only took one more point (21) from teams in the bottom half of the table than from those in the top 10 (20). Perhaps even more telling is their record against those that finished below them – four points from the three relegated teams and two from Burnley isn’t good enough. Turning those results into wins would keep the drop zone at more than arm’s length.
2 Lump on Lamptey
The former Chelsea man had only appeared 19 times for Brighton when a hamstring injury ended his season in March, but in every single one he’s made opposition defenders look like they had just seen a ghost. Joel Veltman deputised commendably, but Big Tariq gives the Seagulls an extra dimension going forward.
3 Blood some more youngsters
Players who were schooled in Brighton’s academy made up 30 per cent of all first-team minutes last season, meeting the club target for the first time. But with unprecedented interest in some of Albion’s top talent this summer, blooding successors soon will be key to stopping the Seagulls going backwards when departures do inevitably occur. All-action Ecuadorian midfielder Moises Caicedo could become Brighton’s next Yves Bissouma.
WELBECK! 💥What a finish from Danny Welbeck to double Brighton's lead! 🔥 📺 Watch on Sky Sports PL📱 Follow #BHANEW here: https://t.co/MeSm6tAiCl📲 Download the @SkySports app! pic.twitter.com/48bu80o9nJMarch 20, 2021
4 Help dat guy Welbz
Welbeck’s first season at Brighton wasn’t without its injury interruptions but the 30-year-old finished particularly strongly, with six goals and better shot accuracy (42.4 per cent) than any of his attacking team-mates. If his goal tally can reach double figures in 2021/22, Albion will be halfway to that much-needed 20-strikes-a-season frontman.
5 March on
Watching Big Dan Burn™ gallop up and down the flank is always entertaining, and he’s a surprisingly good crosser, but the former Wigan man feels like a 6ft 7in peg in a far smaller hole. Goalscoring troubles aside, left wing-back is the only position lacking a natural back-up to Solly March. That needs to change.
FFT verdict: 12th
Leave their profligacy behind and the Seagulls will fly. Potter’s south coast revolution is on.
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