How to Turn Brighton and Hove Albion Into a Premier League Club

How bizarre for Brighton to finish this season, one in which it gained promotion to the Premier League for the first time in its history, with the taste of disappointment.

But that’s exactly what’s happened.

If you’d offered a Brighton fan a second place finish at the start of the year, or even in February, they’d be stupid to not take the deal. But after the Seagulls secured promotion on April 17 with a seven-point lead over preseason favorite Newcastle, the title was almost assuredly theirs.

What followed their promotion was riotous and jovial celebration. Their objective had been realized. But what followed THAT was one point from their final three matches and a feeling that maybe the team isn’t quite the juggernaut that many thought.

Personally, I thought that the team that outpaced Newcastle over 43 matches was ready to compete in the top flight of English football. It would be nice to add another weapon here and there on the roster, but by and large, I thought they were ready.

What that final slide has done is prove that Brighton still play like a Championship-quality club. And that’s fine! The roster was built with the idea they’d be competing at the Championship level. They were a top Championship club all season. What’s important now is adding the necessary pieces to turn into a Premier League-quality club.

Brighton’s defense was it’s strongest asset with Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy as arguably the best pair of centre backs in the Championship, and David Stockdale its best keeper (though he may be off to a new club next season). Whatever happens at goalkeeper, surely Dunk, Duffy, and a talented, if not spectacular crew of full backs will be enough to hold a firm back line.

If I were in charge of making this team Premier League-ready, I’m reengineering the midfield. Anthony Knockaert is a weapon on the wing, but it seemed like the team had to force him the ball and rely on his magic to manufacture goals. That won’t fly next season. They’ll need to change strategy.

The flat 4-4-2 is a fine formation for one of the best teams in the Championship, but in the Premier League, more talented teams will exploit the rigid and limited ball movement options. Even this season, it was difficult to get the ball upfield unless Knockaert had possession or a full back found some open space. Moving to a more fluid formation and adding some talent in the midfield will create more options to get into attacking positions. Adding another talented striker will keep opponents’ center backs on their heels and open space for center mids to move forward.

For example, if Brighton moved to a 4-4-2 diamond, all of a sudden there are more options on the offensive. Moving Knockaert or perhaps even the powerful-legged Solly March up behind the strikers gives you a real threat right in the middle of your opponent’s defense.

Finding space for the rest of the midfield rotation players is more difficult, and ideally, this is where you’d bring in new players more familiar with the formation. It’s easy to say they’ll find talented players that will fit into the tactics and culture of your team, but difficult to do. But buying players is what happens when clubs are promoted and their budgets increase.

This is just an idea for a formation change, albeit one that I think would work well. It would allow us to keep the same shape in the back and add another defensive specialist sweeper while still adding more complex options in the attack. Knockaert won’t be able to take on three defenders by himself in the Premier League and Murray won’t have many looks as clean as he did this year. Chances will need to be created in different ways if the Seagulls are to avoid immediate relegation. We knew this before, but with the way the team finished their Championship campaign, it’s even more apparent.

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Calm Down. Brighton and Hove Albion Is Just Fine

So, I’m a regular lurker on a popular Brighton and Hove Albion forum called North Stand Chat where there is currently a lot of panic about the state of the football club. Traditionally, people are always quite pessimistic about Brighton’s chances in any particular match or promotion campaign, but the team sits at the top of the league even after Thursday’s throttling by Huddersfield Town.

Brighton looked quite poor and admittedly haven’t played to the dominant form from earlier in the season in quite some time, but is the time to panic really while on top of the table with a five-point cushion and a game in hand on third? Just look at these people:

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“Hope for the playoffs at best”

To miss the playoffs would mean Derby (currently the top team outside the playoff picture) have to make up 14 points over 18 matches (plus a +23 to +9 goal differential). Even if Derby won every remaining match, they’d finish on 88 points. Brighton are currently on pace for more than 98 points.

This was a dumb thing to say.

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Maybe taking the piss here.

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The notion that Brighton isn’t playing well is somewhat understandable. They haven’t looked amazing like they did at the beginning of the season. It’s been awhile since the Seagulls turned in a performance like the 5-0 dismantling of Norwich City on October 29th or the consecutive 3-0 victories over Rotherham and Nottingham Forest in August, although granted those teams have played horrible all year.

But, here’s the six-game form for the top seven clubs.

  • DWWLWW – 13 points     –     Leeds United
  • WDWLWW – 13 points     –     Huddersfield
  • WLLWWW – 12 points     –     Reading
  • WWLWWL – 12 points     –     Brighton & Hove Albion
  • WDLLWW – 10 points     –     Derby County
  • LWLWWD – 10 points     –     Newcastle United
  • DDWLDW – 9 points       –     Sheffield Wednesday

Are Brighton really performing badly? Two chasing clubs have caught up one point over the last six matches. And Brighton have picked up two points on second-place, just-need-to-show-up-to-be-promoted Newcastle.

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I suppose this party dog here is mostly upset with others on the forum as opposed to the club’s performance. But still, the notion that Brighton have “gotten away with more than our fair share of results” is incorrect as well. Just because a club scores a late winner in one game doesn’t mean a game will be stolen from them later. Brighton boasts an excellent back line at full strength, with arguably the two best center backs in the Championship in Dunk and Duffy and a keeper who’s played tremendously this season and particularly over the last few months. There’s a reason teams haven’t scored late goals when they’re on the pitch.

The team looked awful against Huddersfield, true. Brighton couldn’t keep possession at all due to Huddersfield’s constant pressure. The worry could be that other clubs are now aware of how to exploit the Albion.

Maybe, but first, not every club is able to pressure the way Huddersfield did the other night. Huddersfield has a very strong second level of attack including Izzy Brown, Rajiv van La Parra, Elias Kachunga, and Tommy Smith that bothered the Albion’s midfield all night long and was very successful. Most clubs don’t have that talent and take on a huge risk if they can’t steal possession in Brighton’s defending half.

Second, that was not at all Brighton’s best 11 on the pitch. Sam Baldock should be back for the match against Brentford on Sunday. I don’t know if Dale Stephens is hurt or was just resting, but he should be available as well.

(Also, this is a bit tangential, but Solly March should be starting over Jamie Murphy on the left side. Murphy is a defensive liability that was exploited all night by Huddersfield’s Smith and March is more creative with the ball as well.)

Dunk is suspended for Brentford, which is a scary thought. But, my entire point is that people look at a single football match and think they can extrapolate a lot more information than they should. It’s a 46-match season and one or two bad performances does not a crisis make. Brighton will be fine, but I guess the blood pressure of Albion fans is not.