Brighton Preview - what to expect on Sunday
Venue: St. James' Park
KO time: 2pm
When Newcastle play Brighton on Sunday they will attempt to do something they’ve not done since 1997 which is win the first two Premier League games of a new season. To achieve this they’re going to have to do something they’ve never done - beat Brighton in the Premier League. Easier said than done and we’ve put in some turgid performances against The Seagulls over the last few years, drawing 4 and losing 2 since both clubs were promoted in 2017.
In terms of opening fixtures, Newcastle’s game against West Ham could hardly have gone better - 3 points and a clean sheet away from home, plus a couple of goals and all-round good performances from our new signings. OK, Tuesday night against Blackburn was less convincing but we fielded a mainly second-string team that had never played together, and clearly lacked match fitness.
Apart from opening up the Joelinton debate again, our Carabao Cup victory also gave new signing Ryan Fraser a chance to kick a ball in anger after not playing a competitive match since March and he marked the occasion with a goal – our third debutante to do that in the space of a week. The game also saw Almiron play one of the filthiest reverse passes I’ve seen in the black and white, with the South American starting the season in fine form and surely giving Bruce a selection dilemma.
Brighton started their campaign with a 1-3 defeat against Chelsea on Monday night, although the score line flattered Chelsea somewhat with Brighton creating the better-quality chances. Graham Potter’s side played well and could’ve even won the game if they’d been more clinical in front of goal. This is a familiar story for the south coast club as highlighted in this article by Albion Analytics - no side converted a lower proportion of their big chances last season with a conversion rate of just over 23%.
They ended the campaign scoring 7.22 under their xG which was the second worst record outside of the relegated teams, and the main reason why they finished below us in 15th despite playing some nice football. 15th was still 2 places higher than they finished the season before under Chris Hughton and Graham Potter has done a good job in transforming the way that Brighton play since he took over. In his own words, Potter describes his team as a “tactically flexible, attacking, possession-based team.”
There’s an excellent article on holdingmidfielder.com which goes into detail about the style of play Potter has instilled since he arrived. One of the key points is they don’t particularly have a set formation; they are flexible depending on their opponent. This is highlighted by the fact they used 6 different formations in the 10 games following the restart last season and Potter is also not afraid to change things up mid-way through a game if his plan A isn’t working.
On Monday against Chelsea no player on the pitch attempted more passes than centre-back Lewis Dunk again highlighting a key tenant of Potter’s approach which is to keep possession and play out from the back – they ranked 7th for total possession last season (51.7%) and 4th for overall progressive passing distance with their 3 centre-backs clocking up the most distance alongside goalkeeper Matt Ryan.
In defense, Brighton are an intelligent pressing team and will usually drop off and await the right triggers before they apply the press. Last season they had the 3rd lowest pressing attempts but the 6th best success rate (30.1%) which suggests they prefer quality over quantity. They will look to isolate opposing players when the ball moves into wide areas by cutting off the passing lanes and forcing them to either play it long, so their centre-backs can gobble it up, or make a mistake leading to a quick counter-attack close to the penalty area.
Brighton have some good players and they’ve recruited well over the last few years, particularly with their younger signings. The three centre-backs likely to start on Sunday – Lewis Dunk, Adam Webster and Ben White – are up there with the best ball playing centre-backs in the league and 24-year-old Malian midfielder Yves Bissouma, signed from Lille 2 years ago, is also a player I rate highly. He’s been compared to former Tottenham midfielder Mousa Dembele and gets through a high volume of defensive work, breaking up play and winning the ball back for his team. Bissouma is also a prolific dribbler, can beat his man and find space in midfield - the type of player I would have liked to see Newcastle sign this summer.
However, Brighton’s best player since lock down has been 19-year-old right-wing-back Tariq Lamptey who they snapped up from Chelsea in January for just £4m. Lamptey has burst onto the Premier League scene and was the standout player against his former club last Monday where he made 6 shot creating actions which is double any other Brighton player. Add this to the fact that on a per 90 min basis last season he also had the most xA, passes into the penalty area, dribbles attempted, successful dribbles and most presses. Lamptey appears to have started the season as he ended it and is definitely a player we need to watch closely on Sunday – Jamal Lewis will have his work cut out, especially if he’s left exposed by Saint-Maximin.
There was an excellent piece by Tom Worville in the Athletic the other day which analysed Spurs’ pressing against Everton following Jose Mourinho’s post-match comment that his team had applied “lazy pressure” – I recommend reading this piece as it’s one of the best explainers on pressing I’ve read. One of the main metrics used to measure a teams pressing is passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA).
I’m explaining this because, as I’ve talked about in the past, this is an area Newcastle woefully under-performed in last season allowing on average 19.06 passes before a defensive action. However, I was pleased with what I saw against West Ham as our PPDA was 14.59 and we finished the first round of PL games with the 4th highest press success rate – we were 20th last season. To highlight the difference this can make, against Blackburn our PPDA was 24.35 which is almost criminal at home against a lower league opposition.
As discussed, Brighton are a high-possession team that likes to play out from the back and, in contrast, Newcastle are a low possession, direct counter-attacking team, so I don’t expect us to see much of the ball tomorrow. If we sit deep and allow Brighton to pass it around us with little pressure, then I can see us having a difficult afternoon, so I hope Bruce deploys a high press when Brighton have possession in defense. We should look to put their players under pressure and force turnovers in dangerous areas which is exactly how Chelsea won the penalty that led to their first goal on Monday night.
If Bruce goes with this approach, it will mean Andy Carroll dropping to the bench with either Almiron or Sean Longstaff starting alongside Wilson. Against West Ham Karl Darlow played 75% of his passes long and Carroll was, unsurprisingly, on the receiving end of most of them. Carroll is the most aerial dominant forward in the Premier League, so this long ball tactic is no surprise when he’s on the pitch, however, this won’t work against Brighton in my opinion.
Chelsea deployed a long ball style against Brighton on Monday, with Kepa sending 67% of his passes long according to The Athletic, most of which we’re won by Brighton’s 3 man defence leaving new signing Timo Werner to comment “the Premier League is different football because I think… I’ve never played against three defenders like this! So tall, so much… big, massive defenders”. It’s true, Carroll has a better chance than Werner at winning high balls but, with 3 defenders around him, the chances are Brighton will win the second ball. For this reason, I would rather see Almiron start the game and keep Carroll on the bench for a plan B if we need to change things.
Brighton are sweating on the fitness of centre-back Ben White and Adam Lallana, but I expect both to start the game. Reading the comments on the Brighton blogs, most of their fans want to see exactly the same team as they started with against Chelsea, despite their second 11 thumping Portsmouth 4-0 in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday. Newcastle are as they were, with the same players available as against West Ham – and I think Bruce will be tempted to start the same team.
In summary, this is going to be a difficult game for us – West Ham’s style suited us more than Graeme Potter’s ball playing Brighton will – however, these are the games we should be looking to win and we have the players to do so.
HOWAY THE LADS!
Data via: Wyscout, The Athletic
Picture credit: Newcastle United
Video credit: Sky Sports