(Writer’s Note: This is the sixth of what will hopefully be 20 team previews in 20 days. Or at the very least, all 20 teams prior to the 2018-19 Premier League’s season-opener between Manchester United and Leicester City on Aug. 10. Links to previous teams can be found at the bottom of the page)
BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION SEAGULLS
Manager: Chris Hughton (Hire Date: Dec. 31, 2014)
Tenure Length: 4th/20 in Premier League and 10th/92 in Top 4 leagues of English football
2017-18 Record: 9-13-16, 40 points, 15th in Premier League
2017-18 Goals scored: 34
2017-18 Goal Difference: minus-20
Number of Current Consecutive Seasons in Premier League: 2 (includes 2018-19)
Last Promotion: 2017
Last Relegation: 2006 (Championship to League One)
2017-18 Carabao Cup: Third-round loss (Bournemouth)
2017-18 FA Cup: Quarterfinal loss (Manchester United)
Brighton and Hove Albion struggled adjusting to life in the top flight after a 34-year absence, not scoring their first Premier League goal in club history until Pascal Gross netted right before halftime in its fourth match.
Like most promoted teams, goals were hard to come by in league play as the Seagulls had six different stretches they were held off the scoresheet in back-to-back contests or longer. Yet there were also pockets of strong play — Brighton had a five-match unbeaten run that included back-to-back wins at West Ham United and Swansea City and a stretch in which it claimed points in seven of nine matches (3-4-2), highlighted by a 2-1 victory over Arsenal. During that second run, the Seagulls also made their run to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup.
But the biggest victory in 21 years for Brighton came in the form of its 1-0 victory over Manchester United on matchday 36, a result that took the Seagulls to the unassailable 40-point mark for securing safety and allowed them to exhale in what was a murderers’ row of finishing matches that concluded with losses at champion Manchester City and Liverpool.
Veteran striker Glenn Murray, who had been with Brighton during its League One days and was a vital part of its promotion to the Premier League, led the way with 14 goals in all competitions while Gross finished with seven and was the only player to pot more than five.
Australia international Mathew Ryan had 10 clean sheets in all competitions but also was victimised by his defense at times as Brighton conceded five own goals.
POTENTIAL STARTING XI
It is possible Hughton could open the season with an identical starting XI to the one that beat Manchester United in May that secured a second season in the top flight. Brighton, however, was active in the summer transfer market with seven signings. Of that group, the two most likely to vie for spots in the first 11 are central midfielder Yves Bissouma, who secured a move from Lille with a £15 million price tag, and forward Florin Andone, who scored 19 goals with Deportivo La Coruna the past two seasons and was a relative bargain at just over £5 million since the Spanish side was relegated from La Liga.
The other notable signings include veteran defender and Nigeria international Leon Balogun and Bernando, who will push for a spot at either wide back after arriving from RB Leipzig with a £9 million price tag. There is hope Brighton’s record £16 million signing from last season, Jurgen Locadia, will deliver something more after appearing in just six league matches and scoring one goal last term.
THE NEW GUYS AND THE GONE GUYS
Bissouma and Bernardo are the two brightest prospects, with Bernardo’s ability to play either wide position or even in midfield providing Hughton a needed versatility. While Bissouma had only three goals in 47 appearances for Lille in the last two seasons, he has scored an equal amount of goals in just 15 international appearances for Mali.
Andone replaces departed veteran striker Leonardo Ulloa, who was loaned in for half a season from Leicester City last term, and gives Hughton a like-for-like pairing with Murray as the most forward striker.
THE GUY WORTH SEEING
Pascal Gross (F)
Gross logged nearly 3,000 minutes last season and was seemingly everywhere in the final third when it mattered for Brighton and Hove Albion. In addition to his seven goals, he had a team-high eight assists and pumped in a team-leading 254 crosses. The 27-year-old signed a four-year extension last month that keeps him in Brighton until 2022 and likely will be the face of the team when Murray decides to hang up his scoring boots.
Per Ladbrokes, Brighton is the fifth-most likely team to be relegated, with the current odds listed at 2/1. The Seagulls are joint-third with Watford and Fulham for a bottom-half finish at 1/10, and joint-11th with the Cottagers on a top-10 finish at 5/1. For the dreamers with a pound to burn, Brighton is getting 40/1 odds on a top-six finish, 150/1 odds to claim a top-four spot and 1,000/1 to lift the Premier League trophy.
FIRST FOUR MATCHES/LAST FOUR MATCHES
Aug. 11 — Watford (14th) A
Aug. 19 — Manchester United (2nd) H
Aug. 25 — Liverpool (4th) A
Sept. 1 — Fulham (N/A) H
April 20 — Wolverhampton (N/A) A
April 27 — Newcastle United (10th) H
May 4 — Arsenal (6th) A
May 12 — Manchester City (1st) H
Hughton’s success with Brighton and Hove Albion proved vindication for a man, who it can be argued, was unjustly sacked from Newcastle United earlier this decade and got somewhat of a raw deal at Norwich City before taking on the Seagulls’ job in 2014. Whatever failures he may have endured in his previous two Premier League stints, he definitely took the proper lessons from them in making sure Brighton was not a one-year wonder after missing out on top-flight football for almost two generations.
“We started the season a bit, I won’t say scared, but we were a bit like, ‘What is the level?’ We didn’t know how to win games. And then the first home win against West Brom made a difference. We knew we were capable of winning games and that we had the quality to do it,” midfielder Anthony Knockaert told The Times following the win over Manchester United.
While the Seagulls are now a year older and a year wiser, the question of are they a year better is a tricky one to answer. Brighton was good enough last season to reach 40 points, but the swap of relegated teams Stoke City, Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion with forward-moving and deep-pocketed promoted sides Wolverhampton and Fulham — less so in the case of Cardiff City — means Brighton must bag more than 34 goals if survival is to be achieved.
While Gross is a do-everything performer and Murray’s veteran nous is a huge plus up front, Jose Izquerido may be the swing vote who decides Brighton’s fate. The 26-year-old Colombia international gained some important experience in Russia at the World Cup, and he was one of Brighton’s top players down the stretch. He needs to be that type of player the full season.
Brighton’s fate will go right down to the wire in terms of surviving. Its closing slate of matches provides no favours unless Manchester City has already sewn up a second consecutive Premier League title before the final matchday. It sounds harsh, but the top of the drop still means Brighton will be dropped.
PREVIOUS TEAMS’ PREVIEWS
July 18 — Fulham July 28 — Newcastle United
July 19 — Cardiff City July 29 — Leicester City
July 20 — Wolverhampton July 30 — Everton
July 21 — Southampton July 31 — Burnley
July 22 — Huddersfield Town August 1 — Arsenal
July 23 — Brighton and Hove Albion August 2 — Chelsea
July 24 — Watford August 3 — Liverpool
July 25 — West Ham United August 4 — Tottenham Hotspur
July 26 — Bournemouth August 5 — Manchester United
July 27 — Crystal Palace August 6 — Manchester City