14 days ago
With Norwich City welcoming Brighton & Hove Albion to Carrow Road for Saturday’s Premier League game (3pm KO), we caught up with reporter Andy Naylor, who covers the Seagulls for The Athletic.
canaries.co.uk: One of the most encouraging things for Brighton at the moment must be that they’ve won games in various ways - coming from behind, holding onto leads and scoring late goals.
AN: They’ve found different ways to get over the line. In a sense, it’s really a continuation of how well they’ve played for long periods of last season. The results didn’t really reflect performances.
They were a little unlucky in quite a few games last season and missed good chances, some key decisions went against them. It’s those fine margins that have really turned around so far this season.
They actually haven’t played that well in comparison to some games last season. The most recent game - a 0-0 home draw against Arsenal - was probably their most complete performance in 90 minutes and yet they didn’t win.
Games that they’ve won, they’ve managed to get maximum points without necessarily performing at their best, which is quite encouraging going forward.
canaries.co.uk: Neal Maupay is among the goals already this season and Brighton have kept the third most clean sheets in 2021 in the Premier League, so which area is the team strongest in?
AN: They’re looking sound in all departments. If you look at them defensively, that’s a continuation because it’s always been a strength, but they sold Ben White in the summer to Arsenal for 50 million pounds.
They lost Adam Webster, their 20 million pound record signing in central defence, as he got injured in the first half at Brentford in August, so he’s missed the last three league games.
Yet, here they are. So far this season, only Chelsea and Manchester City have conceded fewer goals than Brighton.
One of the reasons for that has been the remarkable resurrection in Shane Duffy, whose career at Brighton and indeed the Premier League looked over after a loan spell at Celtic last season, which didn’t work out.
He’s come back and performed really well so far. He’s a real threat at set-pieces and has had more attempts than any other player from corners in the Premier League by some distance.
Brighton have never had a squad with this depth, when you look at the number of players who are not playing regularly.
You go to the midfield, they’ve got lots of options and competition in there. Yves Bissouma has attracted a lot of attention in terms of big clubs being interested. He’s really come on as the holding midfielder.
You’ve got Adam Lallana, Pascal Groß, and Jakub Moder who is a Polish international. Up front, Maupay is back in form. Leandro Trossard is a Belgian international playing more centrally this season, just off the front, and has started well.
Brighton have never had a squad with this depth, when you look at the number of players who are not playing regularly. A lot of them are internationals.
canaries.co.uk: The one game Brighton lost to Everton this season, they still dominated possession. What did Everton do well to get the 2-0 win?
AN: At that stage, Everton were the best side they’d played up to that point. They looked like what you’d expect from a Rafael Benitez side - very well organised and took their chances. Brighton were comfortably beaten and never looked like getting back into the game.
We shouldn’t forget that Everton are very much a top eight team, possibly better than that. In terms of the overall start, that proved to be just a blip. That’s the only game they’ve lost in the opening seven.
They’ve beaten Leicester at home. They drew against Arsenal and another notable scalp in the context of the start of the season because of how they’ve begun is Brentford, where Brighton managed to nick a late 1-0 win. They’re the only team who have beaten them.
There’s been a bit of a narrative in some areas that Brighton have had an easy start and that’s why they are where they are. I think that’s misleading and unfair because there are no easy games for a club like Brighton in the Premier League.
To get 14 points from those seven games, with injury problems, is pretty impressive.
canaries.co.uk: Those results have them joint third and just two points off the top. Is top ten the target for Brighton this season?
AN: The starting point for a club like Brighton in the Premier League always has to be to get to enough points to be safe. They’ve finished bottom six in each of their four Premier League seasons.
The start they’ve had, which is far better than any they have ever had, has laid the foundation for them to be in a position where they can kick on to better things, to not be looking over their shoulder all the time.
It’s a small sample as it’s only seven games and I’m sure there will be periods when they go four, five or six matches without a win - that’s par for the course for most clubs in the Premier League.
There are certainly continuing signs that they’re halfway towards that long-term goal, which is to establish themselves as a top ten club.
There are certainly continuing signs that they’re halfway towards that long-term goal, which is to establish themselves as a top ten club. Whether that happens as soon as this season is a bit early to tell.
canaries.co.uk: Graham Potter has kept them up each season since taking over from Chris Hughton and now has the club in a great position. Brighton fans must love having him at the helm.
AN: We’ve seen him linked with other, bigger clubs. It’s funny because it’s not that long ago that, even though last season they were playing well, they weren’t winning games and there were question marks against him externally.
That’s never been the case internally. He was given a two-year contract extension within 13 games of taking charge, so Brighton have always gone into a lot of detail in appointing him as Hughton’s successor.
They’ve always had maximum faith in him being the man to take the club on further. I think that’s the most impressive aspect of his period in charge so far - that he hasn’t just come in and kept them up.
In that process, he’s developed their style of play. It’s more progressive, building from the back than they played under Hughton. It’s not a small achievement to maintain Premier League status while developing that changing style.
They’re beginning to reap the rewards of that progress in tandem with some generally shrewd recruitment, which has made the squad a lot younger and more energetic with a lot more potential.