Could Brighton and Hove Albion be the Premier League season’s surprise?
If you were to scroll through our match recaps of Brighton and Hove Albon during the 2019-20 Premier League season, it feels like a safe bet that many would say something along the lines of “Graham Potter’s Seagulls deserved better.”
At least that’s how it felt to me, and watching Brighton’s first three outings of the 2020-21 campaign has me digging deep ahead of a two-test week for the Seagulls against Manchester United in the PL (Watch live at 7:30 am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) and the League Cup.
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Even with those matches ahead (like hours ahead in the first case), I’m puffing my chest just a bit at pegging the Seagulls to surprise and finish 10th.
The PL season-opening loss to Chelsea was a throwback to last season and the decisive win over Newcastle far from a surprise (When the Seagulls go up 2-0 with that set of defenders, well, good luck). Their depth provided a 2-0 League Cup win at Preston North End is a feather in the cap of depth as well. So is the fact that Potter was comfortable loaning Shane Duffy to Celtic and selling Dale Stephens to Burnley.
Brighton went 9W-14D-15L last season, Potter’s first with the Amex Stadium set, and their 41 points were seven fewer than expected goals would’ve projected due to their performances.
That was a good start to determining whether the Seagulls’ look of unluck went beyond the eyeball test. We reached out the numbers people at Liam Tharme from Albion Analytics to talk through the rest.
“The chance wastefulness was all across the board (last season),” Tharme told ProSoccerTalk. “Glenn Murray, Aaron Connolly, and Neal Maupay all underperformed their xG.”
[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk Unfiltered, Week 2 ]
Part of that could be down to adjustment. Connolly burst onto the scene at 19 by scoring a brace against Tottenham but was, in fact, 19. Maupay scored 10 times but was adjusting to his first season in the Premier League. Murray might have been 36 but was coming off consecutive double-digit goal campaigns in the PL and a one-goal season is a stunner.
Murray left for Watford and the Championship, where he’s traditionally feasted, but Connolly and Maupay have added a year’s experience to their electric skill sets.
More on that 2019-20 season, whether you deem it unlucky, wasteful, or both.
While there were outings that saw the Seagulls get the rub of the xG green, more often than not it was the other way around.
Look how many came in Dec. 8 - March 7 window that saw Brighton collect only 14 of 45 points via a 2W-8D-5L run.
Notable 2019-20 Brighton reality v xG results
- Aug. 17 -- 1-1 draw with West Ham (2.4-1.0 xG)
- Sept. 14 -- 1-1 draw with Burnley (1.69 - .34 xG)
- Dec. 16 -- 1-1 draw with Palace (2.48 - .48 xG)
- Dec. 26 -- 2-1 loss to Spurs (1.09 - 1.03 xG)
- Jan. 21 -- 3-1 loss to Bournemouth (1.97-1.92 xG)
- Feb. 1 -- 3-3 draw with West Ham (2.03-1.31 xG)
- Jun. 23 -- 0-0 draw with Leicester (1.1 - .51 xG)
- July 8 -- 3-1 loss to Liverpool (2.32 - 2.62 xG)
The team has bought Joel Veltman from Ajax and fended off all suitors of Ben White, who earned a great reputation on loan at Leeds.
The midfield has looked tremendous this season aside from Yves Bissouma’s ridiculous cleat to the face of Jamal Lewis that earned the Seagull a red card. Steven Alzate looks the part after getting acclimated to the PL last season and addnbg Adam Lallana is a good thing.
“Bissouma has really matured as a ball player,” Tharme said. “Under (Chris) Hughton he was more of a transition player, starting counter attacks through dribbles. He can now operate closer to goal, and played the most passes of any Brighton player vs Newcastle. And the same for Alzate, he’s so positionally versatile (RB/CM) that he can play 360 degrees.”
Small sample size alert, but Albion Analytics notes Brighton is second this season for average duration of goal-scoring attacks (55.6 seconds) and fourth for the average number of passes in goalscoring attacks (16.5).
So consider these bigger picture stats below, too, as I admit that my prediction of 10th on the table is perhaps a bit lofty but also quite achievable.
Excluding the top-six teams, last season Brighton had the:— Albion Analytics (@AlbionAnalytics) August 18, 2020
• Most 10+ passing sequences (377)
• Second-most build-up attacks (72)
• Second-highest average possession length (9.47 seconds)
• Second-highest average passes per possession (3.52)