With two games left to spare, Brighton and Hove Albion secured their survival in the Premier League in emphatic fashion. A 1-0 win over Manchester United on a Friday night in front of their own fans at the Amex Stadium got them over the line, lifting the Seagulls up away from the bottom three places on an uncatchable 40 points.
Chris Hughton and his players deserve huge credit for what they achieved last season, avoiding the drop from one of the most lucrative leagues in the world with one of the smallest budgets. But the Premier League is a relentless arena and now the Seagulls are charged with ensuring their continued survival in the English top flight.
Second season syndrome could be an issue for Brighton. After all, they still have one of the size-of-wallet problem, being one of the division’s smallest clubs. They have no real star names and so their philosophy is based on their strength as a team unit. A fracturing of that unit could prove critical.
A tight-knit unit
However, there is also a positive in this. There is a real spirit to this Brighton team that can be hard to quantify, but is definitely there. It was evident in their strong home form over the course of the 2017/18 Premier League season and in the way they managed to bounce back from lengthy winless runs more than once.
This spirit has its roots in the modest size of the squad at the Amex Stadium. Each player knows one another’s roles and responsibilities. But to throw back the argument in another direction, this could turn out to be a negative as the Seagulls face up to their second season in the Premier League.
Brighton got lucky with injuries, or lack thereof, last season. Hughton didn’t rotate much because he didn’t have to rotate much with Dale Stephens and Davy Pröpper picking up more than 30 appearances each in the centre of midfield last season. But the Seagulls’ small squad could be tested if they suffer a series of injuries this coming season.
Hughton has sought to address this potential problem by dipping into the transfer market this summer. At the time of writing, Brighton have signed more players (eight) than any other club in the Premier League this transfer window. Hughton has recognised the need for depth and has taken action over the past few weeks and months.
Around £60 million has been spent on those eight signings, with the addition of Yves Bissouma the most expensive at around £17 million (until the exact fee for Alireza Jahanbakhsh is known). The former Lille midfielder could be exactly what Brighton need to give them some extra drive through the centre of the pitch, with the Mali international boasting a wide-ranging skill set.
Midfield and attack problems solved
Bissouma made 5.77 tackles plus interceptions per 90 minutes in Ligue 1 for Lille last season, with his 3.89 tackles per 90 the second-highest rate out of all the midfielders in the division. A transfer fee of just £17 million could come to represent quite the bargain for the Seagulls, who have quite the track record of picking up unpolished diamonds and shining them up (look at the signing of Pascal Groß last summer).
On top of this, there’s the signing of Bernardo from RB Leipzig and Florin Andone from Deportivo La Coruña. Andone in particular is an interesting acquisition given that Brighton need more firepower up-top. The forward averaged 3.09 total scoring attempts per 90 minutes for Depor last season, almost a whole extra shot per 90 than Glenn Murray (2.17).
Jahanbakhsh has also been signed from AZ Alkmaar for a club record fee believed to be around £20 million, giving Brighton even more threat in the final third (the Iranian was the top scorer in the Eredivisie last season (21), also recording the second-most shots (144) and the third most assists (12) in the division).
They have Glenn Murray, of course, but Brighton badly need someone who can help them establish a platform higher up the pitch, closer to the opposition goal. Andone, along with Jahanbakhsh, might be that figure and they got him for just £6 million.
The new Southampton?
So shrewd have Brighton been in the transfer market this summer that they might just have taken on Southampton’s mantle as the Premier League’s most effective transfer market operators.
The Saints have taken their eye off the ball in recent times, resulting in them coming close to relegation last season, but it would seem that their south coast rivals Brighton have learned a thing or two from the model and approach implemented at the St Mary’s Stadium.
Of course, it can be difficult to truly predict the success or failure of a team in the Premier League – particularly one outside the top six or seven clubs, such is the competitiveness and natural mobility of the division – but Brighton have plenty to be positive about ahead of the 2018/19 campaign.
They mustn’t be complacent in their facing up to second season syndrome, but they are about as well-equipped as they could be to see it off.