Brighton may appear to hold an advantage ahead of the Premier League restart, but a closer look would tell you the alarm bells are ringing at maximum velocity on the south coast.
The Seagulls have an ugly run-in with Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Leicester and both Manchester clubs left among their remaining Premier League fixtures, meaning their two-point advantage over Watford, West Ham and Bournemouth could evaporate in an instant.
Graham Potter will be desperate for his men to dig deep and find an ounce of killer quality from somewhere, but one win in 15 games across all competitions suggests this could be tricky one to navigate.
We bring you the full lowdown on the Seagulls’ season as well as an exclusive chat with former Brighton ace Adam Virgo ahead of the comeback.
Check out your complete guide to Brighton’s 2019/20 season ahead of the Premier League restart.
Brighton in 2019/20
Manager: Graham Potter
Top scorer: Neal Maupay (8 goals)
Most assists: Pascal Gross (4 goals)
Check out our full list of Brighton fixtures 2019/20.
Norwich aside, I suspect Brighton may genuinely find themselves in the greatest danger as the Premier League grinds back into gear.
Nobody truly knows what effect the lockdown will have on teams, but I believe bigger teams may adapt better to the lack of a crowd. The games about to be played feel like the closest thing we’ll ever witness to games being played ‘on paper’.
The ball will be in play for longer and home advantage is severely compromised (both suggested by Bundesliga stats), and confidence-bereft relegation-battlers won’t be able to harness a red-hot crowd for a surge of energy and adrenaline.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I think there’s evidence to suggest fewer shocks will be possible under the new restrictions, and on that basis, Brighton’s shocking fixtures will massively play against them.
If they are to dig themselves out of the pit, top scorer Maupay must find consistency and other big money signings simply need to deliver on their price tag.
Adam Virgo says…
Q: What do you make of Brighton’s season so far?
AV: It’s been up and I think it’s been down. I think the change in manager over the summer was met with a lot of optimism from the fans in that things had gone a little bit stale under Chris Hughton in terms of the style of play, and I think fans were getting slightly frustrated in terms of Chris setting up the same at home to Huddersfield than he was against Manchester City. Not taking away anything that Chris has done for the football club, he was there to keep the club in the league, but they maybe felt a change was the best way forward. If the club had stayed with Chris for another season I think they’d probably be in a worse situation.
I think the club have done better in terms of the way that they want to go forward and play, though they’re still not taking their chances. I think the club could’ve been seven or eight points better off than what they were because they weren’t finishing out games and they were conceding late goals and that was a frustration, that they weren’t keeping clean sheets. Whereas last year, the defence was a major reason of why they were so successful in the last two years.
I think the biggest problem being for the club has been the recruitment, I think if you look at last season they signed Andone, Locadia, Jahanbakhsh, Bissouma. Three of those players in particular – Locadia’s gone out on loan to MLS, Andone’s now playing at Galatasaray, and Jahanbakhsh can’t get a game. That’s almost £60 million worth of players that hasn’t quite made it to improve the club going forward.
Q: Which players have impressed you most?
AV: Lewis Dunk’s probably been Brighton’s best player for the last three years really in terms of his performances and his maturity as a player. He’s Brighton’s biggest asset. He’s the one who’s going to be linked with a lot of clubs outside of Brighton, he’s probably the one who could maybe make the move to a top side but that’s not really what’s come into play really. His representatives have looked after him very, very well and his performances have been excellent. He has been Brighton’s strongest player by a long, long way. I think Mat Ryan’s done well again this season, I think he’s been very, very solid between the sticks.
Q: Which players have disappointed? Who has a point to prove?
AV: Brighton’s problem this season has been there’s just not been enough individuals who could’ve taken control like Pascal Gross in the first season. He was that player that made the difference you know? Trossard’s come in and has been in and out the side and has found it difficult to adapt. Aaron Mooy’s been ok, and that’s the problem with Brighton. I think the performances have been ok but no one’s really stood out. Players have come in and not really taken the club onto the next level.
The players I look at in particular that need to really step up and I think need to show more are Yves Bissouma who they bought in from Nice who has to do a lot better. He cost £18million and has not done as well as he was doing in France.
And Neal Maupay. Unfortunately for strikers you come in and you are judged on your goals. Brighton, again, go for a Championship player, they don’t go and spend a little more money for a more recognised striker who you think: ‘right he may cost more, but he should deliver more goals’. I look at those two players in particular that are being given the start that are not performing well enough and that’s been Brighton’s problems for the last two seasons in particular. I mentioned Jahanbakhsh, I mentioned Antone, I mentioned Locadia, I mentioned Bissouma, there’s almost £100million worth of players there that are not producing the goods and you can’t keep spending that money every two seasons and have the same results. There comes a time where you may have to spend a little bit more, buy a little bit less, and hopefully get more results.
Q: What effect will empty stadiums have on the players?
AV: Yeah, it’s a really odd one. The only example I can give is when I was playing for Scotland and they had a B set up at the time when I was up at Celtic and we played away in Germany. We played in the Schalke stadium and that was like 50,000 capacity – it was like it was empty. It was just very, very odd to be involved in that situation and you know you play reserve games but you tend to play those in smaller stadiums so it’s not necessarily a massive difference. It is going to be different for players because there are going to be situations and times where you’re up against the ropes and you’re struggling a little bit and the crowd are there to really, really help you and there will be teams where the intimidation, like the Kop at Liverpool and your West Hams and stuff are – the fans are vitally important. To not have that, I think will be very, very difficult.
I think for teams with quality players, I don’t think it’ll affect them as much but sometimes when you’re near the bottom, the crowd become vitally important just to get you over the line and offer you support when you’re struggling a little bit so it’s going to be a lot more on the players to look at themselves and get them out of a situation. It’s going to be interesting how communication is made as well because you’ll hear managers on the side shouting instructions where sometimes you’d have to tell a player an instruction for them to go over and pass the message on so it is going to be very, very interesting to see how this all plays out.
Q: Where will Brighton finish in the Premier League this season?
AV: Very, very tough. I think their run of fixtures is very, very difficult and they need to get off to a winning start. I know they’ve picked up a lot of draws and I know we’ve had the break since, but one win in their last… god knows when they beat Arsenal away – almost back in November. They’ve picked up two wins in almost four months. This is crunch time – Arsenal, Leicester, Man Utd. If they don’t pick up any points before they take on Norwich, then it’s going to be very, very difficult for them to get out of this.
It is in their own hands but the fixtures they’ve got, especially the home ones, are going to be very, very difficult and I think if they do survive, it is going to be by the skin of their teeth and maybe by other teams that have just not reacted well from coming back from this break. They don’t really have a points cushion to really play on. A [rival’s] win can take them back into the bottom three. I think they can do it but it’s going to be ‘hide-behind-your-couch’ watching the rest of the season.
Looking for all the remaining Premier League matches and how to watch them? Check out our Premier League fixtures guide.