Norwich City travel to Brighton & Hove Albion this weekend for Saturday’s Premier League game at the Amex Stadium (3pm KO).
Ahead of the match, canaries.co.uk caught up with The Athletic’s Brighton & Hove Albion correspondent, Andy Naylor, to discuss the Seagulls season so far, the appointment of Graham Potter, and to get his thoughts on Norwich City.
canaries.co.uk: How would you sum up the season so far for Brighton now that we’re ten games in?
AN: It’s been very encouraging so far. The style has changed quite dramatically with the appointment of Graham Potter in the summer. They’re playing a more progressive passing game than was the case previously under Chris Hughton. He did a fantastic job to keep them up in the Premier League in their first two seasons, let’s not forget that.
They’re attempting to build on that and the win against Everton in injury time at home last Saturday was slightly fortunate but really a reward for a lot of matches prior to that when they’d played well but the score had gone against them.
Without getting carried away, there’s a lot to like about what we’ve seen so far.
canaries.co.uk: It must have been quite refreshing to score that late goal, because Brighton have had so many go against them in the last few weeks.
AN: They have indeed. It’s been a mixture of red cards and late goals conceded throughout their Premier League lifetime. That’s been very expensive. In terms of late goals this season, at home to Burnley they conceded in injury time when they were 1-0 up. Then, at Aston Villa, having played very well with ten men after Aaron Mooy was dismissed, they conceded an injury time winner there.
It made a change for the ball to be on the other foot against Everton.
canaries.co.uk: Brighton are 14th in the league ahead of this game, but it seems a bit pointless to look at the table when they’re as many points above the relegation zone (four) as they are below Arsenal in fifth.
AN: Yeah, it’s still a bit early to take too much notice of the table. Having said that, usually after ten games it’s a reasonable indicator of how things might go during the season. I think Brighton’s position, if anything, doesn’t quite do them justice based on their performances.
The club’s vision is to establish themselves as a top ten team in the Premier League and that’s what they’re aiming for. I think it would be asking a bit much for that to be the case this season, but it’s fair to be reasonably optimistic at this early stage that they won’t be engaged in a fight against relegation.
"The Norwich game is a good opportunity to build on the Everton win"
canaries.co.uk: There’s a tough run of games on the horizon, with Manchester United, Leicester City, Liverpool and Arsenal all facing Potter’s side after Norwich. That’s going to be a testing time, isn’t it?
AN: Before the Everton game, Brighton were looking at these two home games and needing to pick up a minimum of four points because of that run which follows. United aren’t what they were but just seem to be running into a little bit of form.
After the international break it looks like a really tough run of games with Leicester at home and Liverpool and Arsenal away. Having been 2-1 down against Everton with not that long to go, to get that win makes the Norwich game a really good opportunity to build on that.
canaries.co.uk: You mentioned earlier the good job that Hughton did. What’s the mood among fans on Potter now that he’s in charge?
AN: The fans are very positive about the way they’re playing. I just think it’s worth pointing out that no Brighton fan should ever forget the job Hughton did in his four and a half years in charge. He took the club from near the bottom of the Championship back into the top flight of English football after a very long time away.
He managed to keep them up and did particularly well in the 2017/18 season to finish 15th. As it transpired, they beat Manchester United to stay up mathematically, but having beaten Arsenal in March of that season that would have been enough points-wise, so they actually stayed up more comfortably than perhaps was suggested.
The reason they decided to make a change was because of what happened in the second half of last season where their form deteriorated, and they ended up in a bit of a scramble to survive. They decided the time was right to make a change to try to move things on.
canaries.co.uk: Despite spending much of the season in 17th, where Brighton finished last year, remarkably they were never actually in the relegation zone.
AN: Whatever people want to say about their style and how they ended up staying up, Hughton kept them up and, certainly as a club in only their second season in the Premier League, that was the goal and he achieved it. I understand that they want to try to progress from that, but I don’t think anyone should underestimate how important it is to stay in the Premier League once you get there, just because of the financial implications.
There’s such a vast difference between the Premier League and the Championship in financial terms, and increasingly we’re seeing how difficult it is for a lot of clubs that have been established in the Premier League – like Swansea City or Stoke City – to get back up once they go down. There used to be a time where the teams that went down would bounce straight back up.
canaries.co.uk: Potter’s come in and hasn’t been afraid to remove certain players from the squad for the sake of his ideas, has he?
AN: He’s not been afraid to make big decisions, like with Anthony Knockaert going out on loan with a permanent transfer at the end of the season. He will become a Fulham player in the summer unless something dramatic happens. He was very influential in the season that Brighton went up.
There were question marks about Florin Andone’s temperament as he got sent off against Southampton. That cost them dearly in the 2-0 home defeat and he’s been shipped out on loan to Galatasaray in January.
It hasn’t really happened for Jurgen Locadia at Brighton, so he’s gone out on loan to Hoffenheim.
We’ve also seen, perhaps most significantly of all, Shane Duffy – one half of the formidable Lewis Dunk/Duffy partnership in central defence, which really was an exhibit of their resilience throughout Hughton’s reign – finding himself left out for the first time following the summer signing of the club’s record buy, Adam Webster, who came from Bristol City for £20million.
Potter is very polite and comes across as a modern, thinking coach, but he’s shown that he’s certainly not afraid to make big decisions as well.
canaries.co.uk: Another signing doing well is Neil Maupay with four goals so far this season. It was a clear issue last season that Glenn Murray was one of Brighton’s only sources of goals. Only Teemu Pukki scored more goals than Maupay in the Championship last season. He’s probably the star man, but it still looks more like a collective team effort for Brighton than one standout individual, now that they’re less reliant on Murray.
AN: That’s fair. They’ve got some very good players, but they haven’t got one outstanding player, but the attacking options are there. Maupay looks like a really good signing with four goals already. Murray is the club’s Premier League record holder with 13 last season having scored 12 the season before.
If he stays fit and stays in the side, I’d be very surprised if Maupay doesn’t exceed that figure.
Young Aaron Connolly has broken through, the Republic of Ireland Under-19s international. He scored two goals on his full debut against Tottenham Hotspur. That’s another feature of Potter’s management so far – he’s not been afraid to put young players in.
Steven Alzate in midfield was frankly not close to the first team previously. He signed from Leyton Orient and was due to spend last season on loan at Swindon Town but got an injury and came back halfway through. Potter liked what he saw of him from day one and he’s featured quite a lot in a variety of positions.
There was a time when you were looking at Brighton and thinking that if Murray doesn’t score, where are the goals going to come from? As it stands, he can’t actually get in the team at the moment. There are more threats from other areas.
Leandro Trossard, another of the summer signings, has started the season really well and looked a real bright spark. He got injured on international duty with Belgium and came back from a long layoff as a sub against Everton and played an important cameo role.
It’s healthy. They certainly look to have a deeper squad than previously with good options in it.
canaries.co.uk: What are your thoughts on Norwich this season?
AN: For my sins, I’m a Stoke City supporter and I have been all my life because Gordon Banks was my idol growing up. I’m always reminded of the year that Stoke came up to the Premier League having finished in second place behind West Bromwich Albion.
West Brom had pretty much run away with the Championship that season, playing bright, attacking football under Tony Mowbray and scoring lots of goals. Stoke had a more conservative approach under Tony Pulis, but I was always convinced that Stoke would do better than West Brom.
That proved to be right. West Brom went straight back down and Stoke stayed up quite comfortably, going on to stay in the Premier League for ten years.
"It's refreshing how Norwich play, but they have to become harder to score against"
My fear for Norwich is their naivety. They’ve come up playing the style of football that’s open and good to watch that they did in the Championship, and they’re getting found out a bit in the Premier League so far because the quality is that much better.
They’ve got to find a way to tighten up when they haven’t got the ball because they’re going to get punished by teams if they don’t. It’s refreshing that they’re playing in this expansive manner, but I fear they’re going to pay the price unless they resolve that and become harder to score goals against.
canaries.co.uk: Finally, what’s your score prediction for this weekend’s game?
AN: In the Premier League, you’re always in danger of ending up with egg on your face but I quite strongly fancy Brighton to win this one, so I’ll go for 3-1.
You can follow Andy on Twitter @AndyNaylorBHAFC.