A Recent History
For Brighton you could say this has been coming. They’ve finished in the top six four times in their Championship stay, with a 20th placed finished a rare blip in 2014-15. That was however the year they sold top scorer Ulloa to Leicester and Sami Hyypia was shown the door on New Year’s Eve. That was to be a new dawn.
Houghton only picked up one more point than his predecessor but only conceded 22 in as many games, compared to the 32 prior. Despite finishing six points off relegation there were only five teams who boasted a better defence all season. In 2015-16 they top scored in the league and only three teams conceded less as they finished third.
Last season Brighton lost almost twice as many games but finished second. Four teams outscored them but they had the joint meanest defence with eventual winners Newcastle. This defensive organisation may well prove to be their best asset come August.
2015-16: fourth best goal difference. 2016-17: second best goal difference.
2015-16: fourth least conceded. 2016-17: joint least conceded.
Brighton don’t give much away and remind me a little of Burnley. They’ll fight and show glimpses of quality.
Can Glenn Murray do it at the top level? The 33-year-old only has 11 top flight goals in 52 appearances. Up front is where they’re likely to struggle, much like Middlesborough last year.
Pascal Gross is highly thought of in Germany and represents somewhat of a coup. He and loanee Izzy Brown should add some attacking prowess to an already defensively solid team.
What’s been most talked about is the goalkeeping situation. Australian Matthew Ryan has hardly played for two years and represents a real risk with Stockdale now departed.
Houghton will keep it tight, playing with defensive full backs and one striker. A 4-4-1-1 could be likely if he deems Izzy Brown enough of a workhorse in the number 10 position. The defence is likely to pick itself but captain Bruno desperately needs a deputy at 36. Knockaert and Murphy will have to work hard while providing a threat from each side.
Unfortunately I just don’t think there are enough teams worse or less experienced than them. An ageing forward and right back will be problem areas, as well as big tests for all new signings.
They should be more entertaining than Middlesborough and comparable to Burnley but ultimately will suffer the same fate as the former. It will be them or Huddersfield for the wooden spoon.