In the first face off with our rivals from the South Coast, we had a chat to our pals at WE ARE BRIGHTON on the last campaign, thoughts on this season and much more.
Q. How do you rate what was a lengthy 2019/20 campaign for Brighton and were fans satisfied with it?
It was a strange old season. We were eighth at the start of November, gave Graham Potter a new six-year contract just five months after he arrived and then managed to win just two of our next 19 games. Potter began making increasingly bizarre selection and tactical decisions throughout January and February and by the time March rolled around – after a certain 1-0 defeat at the Amex which we try not to speak of – we looked like we might be that side who gets dragged into the relegation scrap in the final few weeks.
Lockdown then arrived and the three months off saved us in a way. We came back in project restart playing a slightly different way, having less possession but doing much more with it. 12 points from nine tricky games in June and July meant that we ended up surviving relatively comfortably in the end and with a record Premier League points haul of 41 to boat.
All things considered, it was a successful season overall. So many other clubs have replaced solid, reliable managers with younger models who promise to bring greater entertainment through attacking football, only for it to not work out. Stoke City, Bolton Wanderers, Southampton, West Bromwich Albion, yourselves with Frank De Boer… the list is pretty impressive. The fact that we took the gamble on replacing Chris Hughton with Potter and it has so far worked out meant that most Brighton fans would chalk up 2019-20 as being very satisfying.
Q. How have Brighton made the best of the shortened close season and how much of an effect do you think it will have on the season ahead?
We haven’t done much business in terms of senior players coming in with only Adam Lallana and Joel Veltman, a defender from Ajax arriving. The club seem to have directed most of their attention towards hoovering up young talent from around Europe; players who, if they reach their potential, will be worth four times as much as we have paid now and leave us with a very, very good team.
That is obviously a very big if and some fans are worried that we are looking to the future a little too much, rather than fixing some of the glaring deficiencies in the current first team such as having only Neal Maupay and Aaron Connolly as first team strikers. Only time will tell if it is a strategy which works, but given the success that Tariq Lamptey has been so far you have to have faith that the recruitment team know what they are doing.
As for the rest of the Premier League, I believe the shortened summer will impact the promoted clubs more. It is hard enough for teams coming up from the Championship to bridge the gap signings wise when they have an entire pre-season in which to do it. For the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Fulham to improve their squads in such a short period of time is a huge ask. Their existing players have also only had a short amount of rest after completing a gruelling 46 game – or in Fulham’s case, 49 game – Championship season.
From a selfish point of view, you would have to say that is a good thing for the rest of us as two relegation spots are probably filled already. That leaves just one spot for about eight other teams to fight over.
Q. Have Brighton been very active in the transfer window and are there any areas that still need attention before it closes?
We really need a new striker. As I said, Maupay and Connolly are our only fit first team centre forwards following Potter’s decision to send Glenn Murray to Watford on loan. If we suffer a couple of long term injuries, then we could find ourselves trying to cope until January with Adam Lallana playing as a false nine or Leandro Trossard leading the line by himself. Neither are scenarios that are likely to end well.
Q. What can we expect from Brighton this season?
It’s hard to know really. The only thing we are consistently good at is being inconsistent! The performances we delivered against Chelsea, Newcastle and Manchester United in our first three games showed that on our day, we can compete with anyone in the division bar Manchester City and Liverpool. Then we go and throw in a completely abysmal showing like the one that saw us beaten 4-2 at Everton.
If Potter can find a way for us to start converting more of the copious chances we create as well as making the players more ‘street wise’ so they don’t keep giving the ball away in stupid areas, then there is no reason we couldn’t finish in the top 10. We are also very weak when defending set pieces which needs to be addressed.
Personally, I think we will be somewhere between 11th and 14th. That represents progress on last season’s 15th and would be another stepping stone towards establishing ourselves further in the Premier League.
Q. We are keen to see young players coming through the ranks here at TEB so is there anyone that we should keep an eye on who could make the breakthrough into the Brighton first eleven?
Lamptey is the one who has taken all the headlines. I would be very surprised if he is a Brighton player this time next year as he should be attracting the sort of offers that a club of our size do not turn down. We have a young Irish midfielder called Jayson Molumby who spent last season on loan at Millwall but looks set to be part of the first team squad in 2020-21. He is a no-nonsense midfielder who has already made his debut for the Republic and was named man-of-the-match in their game against Wales during last week’s international break.
Q. Are you as tired as we are trying to explain the rivalry between Palace and Brighton every time we face each other?
It does get a bit tiresome, doesn’t it? That has to be one of the biggest incentives for both of us to stay in the Premier League – the longer this is a top flight fixture, the more people might understand what it is about and the less we have to explain it!
The message does seem to be getting through, especially since Sky belatedly realised it is a game worth broadcasting. Anyone who calls it the M23 derby should be castrated in my opinion – that is one thing that we need to make sure is stamped out.
Q. Let’s have some predictions from you for the season;
Premier League Champions – Manchester City. For Liverpool to win the title, they are going to have to have a perfect season for the third year running and that has proven beyond even the best teams in the past. See City in 2019-20 for an example.
Champions League spots – Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton. If Mourinho doesn’t lose the dressing room before the season is out, then Spurs should return to the top four. Everton have a world class manager and have made world class signings. I think I say that it will be their year to crack the top four at the start of every season, but 2020-21 has to be when they finally do it.
Relegated – Fulham and West Brom have too tough a task. I think Sheffield United might be in trouble too; second season syndrome will bite, opponents will have worked out how to stop overlapping centre backs and their marquee signing is Rhian Brewster who scored only 10 goals in the Championship last season.
Surprise package – Maybe not a surprise anymore after their demolition of Liverpool, but Aston Villa have done some seriously impressive business. Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley are a midfield that ooze class, Ollie Watkins looks well set to take to the top flight well and in Martinez they have signed a goalkeeper who transformed Arsenal’s season post-lockdown. Dean Smith has done some seriously shrewd business.
FA Cup – Arsenal. They seem to win it in fits and bursts and they won’t be anywhere near any other trophies, so can throw everything at it.
League Cup – Spurs. Mourinho has always liked to win the first trophy of the season up for grabs and if he ends Spurs’ trophy drought, then that instantly puts a lot of credit in the bank and gives him something to massage his ego with.
Q. What are your thoughts on the return of fans to games this season?
I cannot see it happening. Supporters might be able to socially distance in stadiums operating at a third of capacity, but who do you get people to and from grounds safely? Take the Amex for example. The vast majority of fans have no choice but to take public transport; even if there are only 10,000 there, how do you transport them from Brighton to Falmer on trains whilst maintaining social distancing?
Somewhere like St James’ Park with a ground slap bang in the middle of a city you could get away with it, but I don’t see how the majority of Premier League venues would cope. There is also an argument that top flight football should be last when it comes to prioritising the opening of stadiums. Matchday income makes up such a small percentage of Premier League clubs’ revenue compared to League One and League Two that I would much rather the FA and government concentrated on what is going on down the pyramid.
Q. What do you make of Palace ahead of the new season?
It looks like being a typical Palace season really. You will be too good to go down but not good enough to push for Europe. Eberechi Eze is a superb signing, Michy Batshuayi will get you plenty of goals and Roy Hodgson is never going to lead a club to relegation. I guess the question for Palace is whether, after so long in the Premier League, you should be able to achieve more? That you haven’t shows the gap between the top eight as it is now when you include Leicester, Everton and Wolves at a push and the rest of the division.
Q. Name one player from each team that you believe will be a threat to the opposition in this match.
Wilfried Zaha against Tariq Lamptey will be a fascinating battle and one which will probably decide the game. Lamptey is as good attacking as he is defending so success for Palace may depend on Zaha giving Lamptey too much to think about in a defensive sense, preventing him from getting forward. Whoever is good in the air for Palace from set pieces could have a profitable afternoon given that we cannot defend corners or free kicks to save our lives whilst Maupay loves a goal against rival teams and supporters who hate him. Sorry, that’s four players!
Q. …and finallly, your all important prediction?
Another tight affair, finishing 1-1 like our last game at Selhurst.