Brighton season review: Winning at Anfield, a Pep Guardiola bust-up, Ben White and black eyes
Ben Willcocks' A-Z review of a remarkable season for Brighton and Hove Albion
A. is for Adam and Yves. Lallana and Bissouma brought an excellent balance to Albion’s midfield this campaign. Bissouma’s strength and defensive awareness complemented Lallana’s game perfectly, as he was able to pull the strings and dictate possession in the heart of midfield.
B. is for Black-eyed Potter. Reporters were surprised to see Graham Potter with a black eye ahead of the trip to Sheffield United back in April. Fortunately, it wasn’t because of any training ground bust-up; the gaffer simply lost his footing and fell into a metal railing during an outing to Brighton beach!
C. is for Captain Fantastic. Once again, Lewis Dunk has been one of the star performers this season, marshalling the team with his leadership from defence. Down the other end, he bagged five crucial goals for Albion and finished the season as the club’s third highest scorer. Only Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma notched as many goals among defenders.
D. is for Draws and dropped points. For the second successive year, Albion ended the season with the most draws in the League. Brighton shared the points on 14 separate occasions this campaign and therefore missed out on plenty of opportunities to climb the table. If the club wishes to propel itself towards the top half, turning these draws into wins has to be the primary objective next season.
E. is for European Super League. Whilst Brighton were not directly involved in the European Super League, it helped remind Seagulls fans how fortunate they are to have Tony Bloom at the helm. A long-time Brighton supporter, he has always considered the best interests of the club, which is more than can be said for the greedy ‘big six’ chairmen.
F. is for Fake crowd noise. Love it or hate it, artificial crowd noise was an unforgettable part of the 2020/21 season, with TV broadcasters attempting to replace the Amex atmosphere for fans at home.
G. is for Giant-killers. An Alzate goal in early February was enough to earn Brighton their first victory at Anfield since 1983. Although the Seagulls supporters missed this historic win against the defending champions, Brighton later put in another David and Goliath performance during the fans’ first game back at the Amex, edging Manchester City in a five-goal thriller.
H. is for Hitting the woodwork. Brighton set a new Premier League record in September, striking the frame of the goal five times against Manchester United. No team has hit the woodwork more times in a single Premier League game since this data was first recorded in 2003/04. Trossard was particularly unfortunate in the defeat, as he alone was denied three times out of the five.
I. is for Injuries. Albion’s squad was called into action this season after a number of players picked up major injuries. Notably, Tariq Lamptey’s bright start to the season was curtailed following a hamstring tear, and Solly March required surgery after injuring his knee in February. With both of his recognised full backs out, Potter had to use his imagination, deploying Pascal Gross and Jakub Moder as emergency replacements to cover the flanks.
J. is for January deadline day. The club made a late swoop for Ecuadorian wonder-kid Moises Caicedo on deadline day, who arrived at the Amex with plenty of promise. Excited Albion fans immediately took to social media to speculate his potential, likening the former Independiente del Valle midfielder to Patrick Vieira and Paul Pogba.
K. is for Karate. Bissouma showcased his martial arts ability against Newcastle in September, when his attempted flick over Jamal Lewis turned into a nasty karate kick and caught the defender square in the face. Although it was clearly accidental, the referee brandished his red card for dangerous play, and Albion were forced to see out the 3-0 win with ten men.
L. is for Lee Mason. Brighton fell victim to one of the strangest refereeing decisions in Premier League history when Lee Mason ruled out Lewis Dunk’s quick free-kick at the Hawthorns. Described by Soccer Saturday host Jeff Stelling as a ‘shameful, disgraceful piece of nonsense’, Mason floundered in his attempt to control proceedings, as he yo-yoed between allowing and disallowing the goal until VAR intervened.
M. is for Murray moves on. Glenn Murray finally waved farewell to the club in January, permanently signing for Chris Hughton’s Nottingham Forest on a free transfer. With over a century of goals for the club, Murray is number two in Brighton’s all-time scoring chart, second only to Tommy Cook. Unsurprisingly, the marksman bagged a brace in his first start for Forest, linking up with former Albion stars Anthony Knockaert and Gaëtan Bong.
N. is for New Number 1. Dropping Mat Ryan halfway through the season was a bold choice from Graham Potter, but the meteoric rise of Robert Sanchez between the sticks has been one of the highlights of the campaign. His inclusion in Spain’s Euro 2021 squad demonstrates his quality and potential, both on a domestic and international scale.
O. is for Opportunities missed. The main frustration for Albion supporters this season has been a lack of potency in front of goal. With the fourth worst conversion rate (6.1%) and fifth lowest goals tally (40) in the league, Brighton have struggled to finish off attacking moves, leaving many fans hungry for a new striker in the next transfer window.
P. is for Pep talk. Following the 1-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad in January, Pep Guardiola described Brighton as a joy to both watch and analyse, hailing Potter as ‘maybe the best English football manager right now’. High praise from the Premier League’s manager of the season.
Q. is for Question asked. Despite his acclaim, Potter underwent periods of intense pressure this season, particularly after the defeat to Leicester at the start of March. Floating above 18th placed Fulham on goal difference alone, Brighton were serious relegation candidates, forcing some fans to question Potter’s role as manager. A 3-0 thrashing at Newcastle later that month helped silence the critics, if Potter’s job was ever in any serious doubt.
R. is for Red Cards. Brighton’s ill-discipline landed them top of the red card table, with no other club accruing more than six red cards over the 2020/21 campaign. Skipper Lewis Dunk also ended the season as the most sent-off player in the Premier League, earning a red card against both Crystal Palace and Wolves.
S is for Survival. Despite a few shaky moments, Albion comfortably secured Premier League survival after Fulham lost 2-0 to Burnley with three games to play. After a long, strange and gruelling season, Brighton have managed to remain a top flight club for a record fifth successive year.
T is for Transfer gossip. It comes with the territory of having talented young players, but Brighton have endured their fair share of transfer speculation during the 2020/21 season. Last summer, Ben White was heavily linked with moves away from the Amex and Tariq Lamptey was touted to join Arsenal before the close of the window. More recently of course, Bissouma has attracted plenty of attention from potential buyers, with Manchester City supposedly eyeing a move for the midfielder this summer.
U is for Ups and downs. In a nutshell, it’s been a season of highs and lows for Brighton, who have managed to deliver both euphoric and disappointing moments for the supporters. Whilst the wins against Spurs, Liverpool and Man City will live long in the memory, it’s hard to forget the pitifully poor results, having lost 2-1 to Crystal Palace and 1-0 to both West Brom and Sheffield United.
V is for Versatile Veltman. Arriving from Ajax for £900,000 last summer, Joel Veltman has emerged as one of the Premier League’s bargains of the year. Having excelled at right back, left back and centre half this season, the Dutchman has demonstrated his quality in defence and given Potter plenty to think about when Lamptey returns from injury next campaign.
W is for Welbeck’s stunner. The former England international netted a Premier League goal of the season contender against Leeds, after controlling the dropping ball with a sublime Cruyff turn and thundering the strike into the bottom corner with his weaker foot. Needless to say, Welbeck’s added quality to the frontline this season and was an excellent coup on a free transfer last summer.
X is for xGC. xGC (or Expected Goals Conceded) is an algorithm calculated by OPTA to predict how many goals a team should concede based on the chances they allow. According to the database, Albion finished the season with the third-lowest xGC (41.46), bettered only by Champions League finalists Man City and Chelsea.
Y is for Youth. Potter has gradually assembled a younger squad over the last two seasons, and this year Albion fans have started to witness the benefits. The club has built a core of young players under 25, including Ben White, Tariq Lamptey, Robert Sanchez, Yves Bissouma, Neal Maupay, Alexis Mac Allister, Steven Alzate and Jakub Moder, who have each played regular minutes in Albion’s first team at some point this season.
Z is for Zero difference – or just the beginning? It’s been another consolidation year in the Premier League for Brighton this season, but has progress been made? Having only matched their points tally of 41 points from the 2019/20 campaign, sceptics may argue the club is simply in a standstill. However, the optimists and romantics among the Albion faithful will believe that this foundation is the start of something – and next season brings another opportunity to improve.