Graham Potter could be facing his toughest test yet as Brighton boss following the departure of Ben White to Arsenal for £50 million earlier this summer.
The defensive trio of captain Lewis Dunk, Adam Webster and Ben White helped the Seagulls keep 12 clean sheets – the joint fifth-best total in the league – with only seven teams conceding fewer goals in the entire season, despite them finishing 16th in the table.
But White’s exit has led to questions about how the team, who conceded the second-fewest number of goals in 2021, will fare this coming campaign, which begins with a trip to Burnley on Saturday.
So does the defender’s departure signal a sea change for the Albion or simply heap pressure on a manager entering the third season of a six-year contract?
“Any side would miss a player of Ben White’s quality as he is somewhat unique in what he brings,” Scott from We Are Brighton tells FansBet.
“He can defend, he reads the game brilliantly, he is excellent on the ball and he often pops up in the final third in open play to cause chaos and confusion amongst the opposition defence.
“The good news though is that the Albion still have Lewis Dunk, Adam Webster and Joel Veltman – three defenders who had excellent seasons last time out.
“With Dan Burn able to provide decent back up, Brighton are well stocked to cope without White. That is what made the £50 million received such a good deal.”
But despite any lingering questions hanging over Albion’s back-four options, Scott believes it’s up-front that the club still needs to strengthen.
That’s despite Japan international Kaoru Mitoma joining Albion on a four-year-contract from J1 League team Kawasaki Frontale for a reported transfer fee of around £2.5m.
“The one glaring thing that the Albion need is a centre forward,” he explains.
“If Brighton can find a clinical striker who can make the most of the chances this side creates, then suddenly you are looking at the realistic possibility of a top 10 finish.
“Getting that player is easier said than done though as it will cost a lot of money and 14 of the other 20 Premier League clubs are shopping in the same market.”
Brighton could have finished as high as fifth last season according to the expected points table based on chances which should have been converted.
In the end, they finished 16th with only four clubs below them in the table.
Tellingly, their performance levels improved dramatically towards the end of the season when Danny Welbeck was fit, but worryingly for Potter, a hamstring problem means he is likely to be out until after the international break in September.
As a result, The Seagulls could as easily be on the verge of a truly memorable campaign as they are in danger of fighting another relegation battle ahead of the trip to Turf Moor this weekend.
So what then is it realistic to expect from Brighton this season?
“No clubs bar the big six, Everton and currently Leicester can ever be truly safe from the dotted line,” says Scott.
“I would not say Brighton are established, but the Albion are certainly more comfortable in their skin as a Premier League side in terms of playing style and being able to go toe-to-toe with anyone in the division.
“That is a far cry from our first couple of seasons in the top flight under Chris Hughton.
“Tony Bloom has said he wants the club to become established in the top 10. That obviously does not happen overnight so it is all about taking small steps.
“An improvement on 15th and more points than the previous best total of 41 would get the Albion moving closer to that target.”
Two years into a six-year contract, it’s very much a case of work in progress for Graham Potter, who joined Brighton from Swansea in 2019 to replace the outgoing Chris Hughton.
His side scored more and conceded fewer goals than in any of their previous Premier League campaigns in 2020/21 but a final finishing spot of 16th was frustratingly familiar.
He was linked with managerial vacancies at Tottenham and Everton over the summer but insisted there was never a realistic prospect of him leaving his project on the south coast.
But Scott believes it’s now time for the young English coach to instill a bit of stability in his side, otherwise pressure could quickly mount on the 46-year old.
“This is his squad now in his image,” he explains. “We actually dropped a place in the table last season even though we secured the same number of points.
“Potter’s two seasons at the helm so far have been characterised by strong finishes when he has adapted a less pragmatic style and a settled team.
“It is fairly clear this group of players are better when they do not dominate possession and there is stability in selection.
“Potter needs to stick with that and not try and start the season recording 80 percent possession and picking his team with a roulette wheel and players out-of-position everywhere.
“Otherwise he might find himself under a bit of pressure – especially with fans back in the Amex.”
Leave a comment
Follow Matthewjcrist on Twitter