Brighton and Hove Albion have come a long way in a short space of time. From 1997 to 2011 they didn’t have a permanent home, instead being residents at first Priestfield Stadium and then Withdean Stadium.
Just seven years later, however, they’re playing Premier League football and manager Chris Hughton was disappointed to lose an FA Cup quarter-final to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
“In regard to the overall performance of the team, I was delighted with that. But you know the game is won and lost at both ends,” he said after the match.
“When you look at [Romelu] Lukaku‘s goal, it's what he does and he showed the quality to get on the end of the cross. We needed someone like that, but we were always in the game and always a threat.”
It’s not the first time Hughton has brought up the lack of striking options at the club. But with him praising Lukaku specifically, who could the Seagulls target to replicate the big Belgian at the Amex?
Using Football Whispers’ Player Persona model – which identifies footballers’ key in-game characteristics – we can create a similarity score for players who have the same stylistic traits as the Manchester United striker.
From that list we’ve identified six frontmen Hughton could, and perhaps should realistically target in the summer.
(Similarity out of 100: 96.26)
Think about Lukaku. What's the first thing that comes to mind? His power? Perhaps. His pace? Maybe. His aerial threat? Almost definitely. This season in the Premier League the Belgian has won an average of 3.46 aerial duels per 90 minutes.
Brighton's Glenn Murray, meanwhile, is winning 4.63 of his aerial duels per 90, so the ability to win the ball from long passes forward is something Hughton wants from his forwards.
Villarreal forward Enes Ünal, at 3.08 aerial duels won per 90 in La Liga, fits the bill.
The Turkish striker is also averaging 2.17 shots per 90, compared to Murray’s 2.13 and Lukaku’s 2.78 – but with the highest shooting accuracy of all of them at 58.33 per cent.
Since joining Villarreal last summer for €15million from Manchester City Ünal has five league goals in 17 games, as well as one in seven La Liga matches on loan at Levante.
City have a repurchase option of €30million and he’s clearly rated highly so Villarreal wouldn’t sell for less.
However, he's by no means guaranteed a starting spot, with youngster Dani Raba often picked ahead of him in recent weeks. If Ünal became available in the summer, he’d be a shrewd loan signing, especially on loan.
(Similarity out of 100: 94.37)
Marseille striker Valère Germain isn't quite as effective as the Turkish forward in the air, winning just 1.8 aerial duels per 90 minutes.
But, he holds the ball up well and offers his team the chance to progress up the pitch. He’s strong, like Lukaku, and his ability to hold off defenders would allow his team-mates to find space, which would be a real asset at Brighton.
What’s more, he also tracks back and isn’t afraid to help out defensively with the Frenchman known for no-nonsense tackles.
The 28-year-old joined Marseille from Monaco in the summer and has six goals in 28 Ligue 1 games. With Florin Thauvin, Morgan Sanson and Lucas Ocampos all outscoring him, Germain is hardly irreplaceable for the French side and could be available in the summer for the right price.
(Similarity out of 100: 91.72)
Sergi Enrich was an ambitious Fulham transfer target last season, but stayed at Eibar to help them to a tenth-placed finish.
The Spanish striker was arguably Los Armeros’ best player of 2016/17, finishing the league season with 11 goals. He’s not managed to replicate that form in 2017/18, with just three in 19 appearances in La Liga before suffering ligament damage in January.
But that doesn’t mean Brighton shouldn’t consider him in the summer if he proves his fitness.
The Eibar man is an out-and-out forward who is dominant in the air, winning 4.63 aerial duels per 90. He has also proved himself adept at bringing others into the game, averaging 1.01 key passes, more than Lukaku (0.78) and Murray (0.67).
He has a €20million buyout clause, and in today’s inflated market, he could prove to be a bargain. The Seagulls have brought in quality without spending countless millions, the 28-year-old fits into that bracket.
(Similarity out of 100: 90.92)
Espanyol’s talisman has drawn a number of admirers across Europe since he joined from Villarreal in 2015.
In fact, after losing Cédric Bakambu in January, the Yellow Submarine tried to re-sign him. But Moreno turned them down and decided to stay at his hometown club, who he didn’t want to leave short mid-season.
The 25-year-old has a €40million buyout clause. That would be at the top end of, if not beyond, Brighton’s budget. But if they could bring the fee down, he would be a real coup.
Deceptively good in the air, he averages 3.27 successful aerial duels per 90 minutes. Like Lukaku, he also likes a dribble or two. The Belgian averages 1.14 take-ons per 90 while the Espanyol man is at 1.55. For context, Murray is at 0.31.
While he may be a striker, he can play as a No.10 as well, and has the range of passing and technical ability to thrive in England.
(Similarity out of 100: 89.98)
While this would be hard to pull off, Kalinić could be a real coup for Brighton. You may remember him as the Croatian striker who scored just seven Premier League goals in 44 games for Blackburn Rovers between 2009 and 2011…he’s come on a lot since then.
Now 30, he’s had spells at Fiorentina and Dnipro and is currently on loan at AC Milan. The San Siro side have an obligation to buy him permanently for €25million this summer.
That would normally mean he’s off limits, but Corriere della Sera claim his future is under question after a row with Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso.
“I haven’t seen any commitment, I’m not including you [in the match-day squad],” Gattuso is claimed to have said last week, and that has left the striker questioning his future.
That unrest is something Brighton could take advantage of. Like the rest of the players on the list, he’s great at holding up the ball and is excellent at laying on passes to onrushing attackers.
If Hughton wants a bit more experience in his team, Kalinić could be the man.