Season Preview: Can Brighton avoid sophomore slump?
Brighton at a glance:
Premier League (and old First Division) titles: 0 (best finish: 15th, 2017/18)
FA Cups: 0 (best finish: 2nd, 1983)
League Cups: 0 (best finish: 4th round, twice)
FA Community Shield: 0
Top Four finishes: 0
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The glitz and glamor has worn off, the celebrations are over, the bright lights are no longer blinding. Brighton & Hove Albion is an established Premier League club.
The Seagulls navigated the club’s first-ever Premier League season with pragmatism, organization, and occasionally style, avoiding relegation by a somewhat comfortable seven points. Now, the goal becomes avoiding a sophomore slump.
Somewhat active in the transfer market this summer, manager Chris Hughton has the tall task of weighing new, higher expectations brought on by last season’s mild success with the reality of the situation: Brighton & Hove Albion’s goal is still to remain a Premier League competitor. Avoiding relegation is ultimately the goal, and like it was this past year, anything else is bonus. Still, having proven they can do the job once has undoubtedly added a little extra spice to the regularly scheduled dose of pressure, with supporters likely expecting not just Premier League safety, but also tangible improvement, something Hughton will have to handle.
Brighton will finish top ten because....their defense was stellar last season, and not only kept them up but kept them in almost every game. Brighton conceded 54 goals last season in 38 games, less than anyone else in the bottom half of the table. The team warded off suitors for Lewis Dunk, a decision which proved smart. His central defensive partner is a full international in Shane Duffy. Both are 25 years old. If they can use the new signings to bolster the attack effectively, this is a team that has the potential to make some noise.
Brighton will be relegated because...they simply can’t score. They scored just 34 goals last season, and were shut out a whopping 17 times. To fix this problem, Brighton has spent nearly $70 million this summer, but have gone with quantity over quality, not spending more than $22 million on any one player. That man was Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who has just one good season under his belt at AZ Alkmaar. They signed Jurgen Locadia back in January from PSV Eindhoven, and despite plenty of aplomb, he managed just a single goal. It’s a work in progress, but if the attack doesn’t improve, Brighton is in trouble.
Best possible XI:
Transfers In: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar, $22.3 million), Yves Bissouma (Lille, $19.8 million), Bernardo (RB Leipzig, $11 million), Florin Andone (Deportivo la Coruna, $7 million), David Button (Fulham, $5.2 million), Percy Tau ($3.8 million).
Transfers Out: Sam Baldock (Reading, $4.6 million), Connor Goldson (Rangers, $3.9 million), Jamie Murphy (Rangers, $1.4 million), Jiri Skalak (Millwall, $937k), Tim Krul (Norwich, Free).
Ranking their offseason: C+
There’s still a lot to be determined here, most of which falls in the lap of Jahanbakhsh. If he can repeat last season with AZ Alkmaar, Brighton will have one of the best value buys of the entire summer. If he falls flat, there’s little else to provide this attack with any type of spark, leaving them toothless once again. Also, Bissouma is a midfield destroyer who could boost the team’s cover for the back line and begin moving possession forward, and if he performs well and earns a starting spot, Brighton will not just have one of the strong midfields of the lower-table sides, but also a great asset on their hands, with Bissouma at just 21 years old. The C+ grade comes with lots of question marks, but plenty of potential as well.
Star player: This is a loaded question, as nobody truly stands out on this squad at the moment. Jurgen Locadia was meant to be that star when he was brought in last winter, but has since fallen flat. He still has that chance, but the slow start has not been terribly endearing. Jahanbakhsh also has a shot to be the guy, but he’s making a significant step up in competition. At the moment, Brighton’s incumbent star is Pascal Gross, a midfielder who flew under the Premier League radar last season but scored seven goals and was often Brighton’s biggest threat moving forward, even starting as a pseudo-striker down the stretch of the season.
Coach’s Corner: Chris Hughton is potentially the Premier League’s most underrated managers. He finished 11th with a thin Norwich City squad back in 2012/13, although they limped to relegation the next. He has built a sustainable ship at Brighton, but this coming season will be critical to their long-term health. While managers like David Wagner and Sean Dyche are constantly praised for the performances they give at clubs of lesser stature, Hughton’s job at Brighton - a team that had never made the top flight before last season - is one that never gets the credit it deserves.
PST Predicts: Sophomore seasons for newly promoted clubs are ones even more impossible to predict than their first. After securing safety in the first season up, many fans expect marketable improvement over the previous campaign, adding pressure to the players and coaches. Nobody wants to fall back, but still the goal should be the same. As long as the team realizes the bar is still league safety, they will be ok. Any added pressure could cause the team to fall apart. We’ll say Brighton stays up, but barely, with a 17th placed finish. There are worse teams than this perusing the Premier League, and that should be enough to keep them afloa-.