Brighton and Hove Albion’s successful bid to avoid relegation in their first ever Premier League season was based on defensive resilience.
The Seagulls conceded 54 times in 38 games, which might seem like a lot, but that’s ten fewer than the team who finished a place above them, Watford, and 14 fewer than West Ham United, who finished two places above them.
In fact, on the basis of their defensive record alone, Brighton would have finished in the top half of the Premier League. Everton, who came eighth, conceded more goals than the Seagulls over the course of the 2017/18 campaign.
A big reason for Chris Hughton's side's success was the centre-back partnership of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk.
No player in the Premier League made more clearances per game than Duffy did last season (8.8), with the Irishman also making more blocks than anyone else in the top flight (1.6 per 90). Behind him, Dunk made the second most blocks per 90 (1.5), illustrating the strength of their partnership.
The duo have been heralded, along with Glenn Murray, as Brighton’s players of the season. But Hughton isn't resting on the Seagulls’ laurels, with preparations for 2018/19 campaign already underway. And for all of Brighton's defensive nous, the club's manager must look to strengthen his backline.
In January, the south coast side were linked with Liam Lindsay, the Barnsley centre-back who has impressed in the Championship since making a move from Partick Thistle last summer.
Brighton were ready to offer £6million during the winter transfer window but, for whatever reason, the deal never materialised. Six months later the Seagulls should return for Lindsay.
While Barnsley suffered relegation from the second tier this season, finishing 22nd, it was in spite of Lindsay rather than because of him. The Scot couldn’t have done much more to stop his team from the drop.
Lindsay isn’t the most prolific tackler, only averaging 1.52 per 90 this season. But neither are Duffy or Dunk. Remarkably, Duffy only averaged 0.8 tackles per 90 over the course of the 2017/18 campaign.
Brighton rely on protection, in the form of Dale Stephens, in front of the back four to make interventions. Stephens, for what it’s worth, makes 2.8 tackles per 90.
Just like Duffy and Dunk, Lindsay is excellent at clearing the ball, averaging six clearances per 90 over the course of the 2017/18 season for Barnsley. The Scottish defender is more elegant with the ball at his feet, but that doesn’t show in the statistics.
Being left footed, he would provide some balance to Brighton, with both Duffy and Dunk right footed. That could be part of the attraction.
By his own admission, Lindsay is more than open to the notion of a move for the second successive summer. “The move to Barnsley has exceeded my expectations in so many ways and being linked with Premier League clubs already only motivates me to achieve more,” he explained in an interview earlier in the season.
“I’d love to see myself on Match of the Day one day. Everyone watches the show when they’re a kid and I was no different. When you’re younger you think that level is so far away, but it could now become a reality for me.”
Brighton have work to do to avoid second-season syndrome in the Premier League. They captured the excitement of their fanbase and used that to doggedly ensure survival this term. But it’s only natural that the excitement will wear off as the Seagulls settle into life in the top flight. Across the board, they will need to strengthen.
Conor Goldson is rumoured to be on his way out of the Amex, with Steven Gerrard reportedly keen to take the defender to Rangers this summer. And so Brighton will need defensive reinforcements before the start of the new season. It wouldn’t hurt to have a centre back alternative, either, in the event of an injury to one of either Duffy and Dunk.
This Brighton team is one that is based on the relationships Hughton has sparked all over the pitch.
The understanding between Pascal Groß and Murray, for instance, is one of the strongest in the Premier League, with the two players combining for four goals this season. And of course, we know about the relationship between Duffy and Dunk at the other end.
It’s understandable that Hughton would want to keep this partnership intact, but as a manager he must prepare for all eventualities, including injuries and dips in form.
Lindsay is highly rated and at just 22 years old is still following an upward trajectory in his fledgling career. There are many reasons to be believe he would be a shrewd signing for the Seagulls.