There have been a few good starts from teams that were perhaps expected to faulter early in the first two weeks of the season. Sheffield United and Bournemouth have done well but perhaps most surprisingly Brighton have impressed most. Four points in their first two games against Watford and West Ham will come as a shock to most after their relegation battle last season. All the more impressive is that it is being done under the vision of Premier League newcomer Graham Potter.
The first game week of the Premier League season was filled with a number of dominating score lines. There were a total of six games where one team scored three of more goals, and half of these had the winning team score four. But beyond Manchester City’s 5-0 annihilation of West Ham and Manchester United’s grilling of Frank Lampard and his Chelsea side, there was one emphatic victory that nearly nobody saw coming. This was, of course, Brighton’s dismantling of Watford on their own turf.
Brighton have shown that under Potter they can adapt to different challenges. The win at Watford demand defensive discipline despite what the scoreline says but the point against West Ham saw Potter’s side dominate possession with 57% of the ball. They also had 16 shots on target compared to the Hammers eight. Possession and plenty of attacking football were not two qualities that were necessarily aligned with Chris Hughton’s Brighton side.
The south coast side also could have won the game as new signing Leandro Trossard could have doubled his tally for the day if VAR had not ruled out his second for offside.
Seagulls flying high
At the end of last season, Brighton and Watford were separated by six places and 14 points. After this result, it might look, to a newcomer, like Brighton had been the superior team last term. But it had been precisely the opposite. Watford’s season had been full of success, while the Seagulls had been struggling to even stay in the Premier League, finishing 2 points above the relegation zone. Few blamed Chris Hughton when he was sacked, such were the issues with the squad, and many expected Brighton’s season to be one plagued with misery, defeat, and relegation despite the appointment of Graham Potter. All this only makes the win, and their performance against West Ham, all the more impressive.
The Watford game itself was not overly dominated by either side in terms of possession, being rather equally split, but it was Watford who had the most shots, with a total of 11 to Brighton’s 5. But each side managed a total of 3 on goal. This was due to Brighton’s new style of playing 5 at the back, in which they were quite happy to let Watford try to score but confident that, with their new tactics in defence, scoring against them would be much harder than it looked.
This meant that Watford were drawn on to Brighton in their attacking phase, during which they held an extremely high line, and when possession turnovers occurred, in the form of quick tackles and smart interceptions from the midfield, the Seagulls were able to unleash clinical counterattacks, taking advantage of the masses of space behind. But Brighton were not rash in their attacks from here, taking the time needed to build-up play from their attacking positions until they could work it to the front of goal.
This exact routine produced their first two goals, with Abdoulaye Doucouré clumsily placing one of these crosses into the back of his own net, and Florin Andone slotting in the second. An intelligent combination of solid defensive play when they were sat back, and sharp counterattacks when they won it back, was able to build the foundation of an impressive victory.
The last of their trio of goals came from debutant Neal Maupay who, after receiving a smart through ball from Lewis Dunk, calmly rounded keeper Ben Foster and providing a cool finish to round out their victory and seal the Seagulls’ first opening day win in four seasons.
A matter of style.
This performance and result, away from home on the first day of the season, is nothing less than a dream for new Brighton manager Graham Potter. Potter has experienced a rapid rise in the football world after taking Östersunds FK from the Swedish 4th division to the 1st division, winning the Svenska cup and bringing the team through to the Europa League knock out rounds – during which they beat Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium (Arsenal then knocked them out of the competition.) He was then appointed manager of Swansea, keeping them afloat in the Championship in the 18/19 season, before coming to Brighton in the summer.
His managerial style has often been called ‘progressive’ or ‘unconventional’, but football is all about results – and he has consistently produced these. Using a plethora of styles, including a number of different ones during a single match, Potter focuses on having his teams play flexible, attacking football. This ethos was certainly one that shone through in their trouncing of Watford and, with few additions being made over the summer, it is without a doubt that Potter’s style and management that played a vital part in this win.
This flexibility that Potter has shown throughout his managerial career showed again this weekend as Brighton were the team in command and were disappointed not to have claimed another victory against the Hammers. This shows how much Brighton have improved other the summer as they look to have found their footing quickly after what could have been a tricky start under new leaddership.
Which players are standing out so far?
Graham Potter surely did great work, but he wasn’t out on the pitch. There are a few players who stepped up and made Brighton’s away-day win possible.
Central defenders providing assists is something you expect from Premier League winners Manchester City or European Champions Liverpool. But Lewis Dunk walked among these ranks in the opening week, providing a sublime through ball for Neal Maupay, and Seagulls’ fans will be delighted in the fact that this was not even the best part of his performance. The Englishman was stern, tough and composed in blunting Watford’s attacking prowess, making goal-line blocks, and providing the Brighton’s backline with a fantastic example of how to contribute in the attack as well as the defence.
The Seagulls missed Gross last season as he struggled with injuries, and this game gave fans a taste of what to expect now he’s back. The attacking midfielder provided Brighton with a creative spark in their midfield as he passed the ball slickly about and produced a plethora of chances for strikers Murray and Andone. He was unfortunate not to be on the scoresheet with a goal for Doucouré’s own goal.
Scoring on your debut is no easy feat, but Maupay has made it look it is. Coming on as a substitute, his attacking play and finishing were like those of strikers who have played in the competition for years, produced by a man who was on the pitch for less than half an hour.
The newcomer was relatively unknown joining from Genk in the summer. He bagged a goal against West Ham and had one disallowed by VAR but both were tidy finishes. A goal on his debut for Brighton is hopefully a sign of good things to come Trossard looks like someone who can find the back of the net quite easily on his day.
There could be no better start for Brighton and, although little can be drawn from the first game, it looks although they may not be quite as troubled with relegation as many predicted. Brighton visit Southampton in a derby clash next and would love bragging rights. It is a good chance to claim three points with the Saints getting off to a poor start to the season.