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Brighton and Hove Albion have been the definition of ‘style over substance’ this season. Aesthetically, the Seagulls under Graham Potter are a world away from the more cautious approach of former boss Chris Houghton. But in terms of results, things haven’t improved – Brighton are four points worse off than they were at this stage in 2018/19 and are still battling to avoid relegation from the Premier League.
Potter’s men have struggled to turn draws into wins, with their record of 11 ties the second most of any team in the top-flight. The South Coast side will need to be more clinical in front of goal if they want to beat the drop and finish higher up the table next season.
Three players are out of contract at the end of the 2019/20 campaign – right-back Ezequiel Schelotto, central defender Leon Balogun (currently on loan at Wigan Athletic) and Israeli midfielder Beram Kayal.
Balogun and Kayal are on the fringes of the first team so look likely to leave the club, while there are question marks over whether Schelotto has done enough to earn a new contract since his recovery from a long-term knee injury.
Of the army of players that Brighton currently have out on loan, the club will be most keen to shift strikers Florin Andone and Jürgen Locadia. However, the prospect of them departing for significant fees has diminished as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The situation is slightly more complicated with Locadia. MLS side FC Cincinnati have an agreement in place to sign the Dutch forward on a permanent basis, but reportedly want to renegotiate their loan-to-buy arrangement in light of football’s changing economic circumstances. Whether he ends up moving to Cincinnati or elsewhere, it would be a surprise to see the £14million man return to the American Express Community Stadium.
Anthony Knockaert is one player who is expected to make his loan move permanent. It seems unlikely that there will be any issues with the winger’s transfer to Fulham, after spending the current campaign with the Scott Parker’s Championship promotion chasers.
Four of Brighton’s young loan stars could return to fight for a place in Potter’s starting lineup next season. Goalkeeper Christian Walton looks ready to challenge current No.1 Mathew Ryan, while midfielder Jayson Molumby has enjoyed an impressive year in the Championship with Millwall. Centre-backs Ben White and Matthew Clarke have been similarly successful at Leeds United and Derby County respectively, with White a contender to go straight into the Seagulls’ first XI in 2020/21.
That abundance of central defenders means that we could see at least one departure from the current squad – potentially Shane Duffy or a big-money move for captain Lewis Dunk, who has previously been linked with a switch to Leicester City.
Despite coming back into the side in February, veteran striker Glenn Murray is reaching the end of his time as a top-flight striker and may not be happy with a bit-part role next season. Nottingham Forest were keen to sign him in January and may well return this summer. Brighton also have a surplus of wingers, so the likes of Alireza Jahanbakhsh or José Izquierdo could leave if the club were to receive a significant offer.
Key areas to strengthen
The Seagulls are underperforming their expected goals (xG) this season – Brighton’s xG is 37.61 but they’ve only found the net on 32 occasions. It’s not hard to see why. Potter’s team are inside the Premier League’s top six sides for shots per 90 (11.37), but are second-bottom when it comes to the percentage of them that are on target (32.8 per cent).
A clinical finisher must be Brighton’s top priority this summer; someone who is a physical presence in the penalty area and can be paired with top scorer Neal Maupay.
Owner-chairman Tony Bloom has suggested that it could be a quiet upcoming transfer window for the club, certainly compared with the outlay of more than £50million we witnessed ahead of 2019/20.
One other area requiring attention is at left-back. Dan Burn has been a surprisingly convincing option there since taking on the role back in September, but a more natural full-back would be a useful addition to the squad.
A right-sided defender may be desirable too, but the January loan signing of Chelsea prospect Tariq Lamptey may go some way to addressing that position if he is ready for first-team football.
The threat of relegation still hangs over Brighton, with just two points currently separating them from the bottom three. That makes it challenging to plan ahead for next season and explains why the Seagulls have been linked with relatively few players over the past few months.
More recent links include young Barcelona midfielder Monchu, who has scored eight goals from the centre of the park for the Catalan giants’ B team. But Brighton aren’t the only South Coast team interested in his services, with Bournemouth also reportedly keeping tabs on the former UEFA Youth League winner.
A central defender will be low on the list of priorities, but rumours have surfaced that 21-year-old Abdul Mumin Suleman could be on the club’s watch list. The FC Nordsjælland youngster will be available on a free transfer at the end of the season, with his contract set to expire – he would, therefore, represent a low-risk signing if Brighton choose to take their interest any further.
Fundamentally though, it is the search for a consistent goalscorer that is likely to dominate the Seagulls’ summer. Securing a top quality forward will surely be the difference between success and failure in 2020/21.