Why making Neal Maupay the scapegoat for Brighton and Hove Albion's scoring woes is wrong - opinion
Oh Neal! Monsieur Maupay has taken a bit of a hammering from Brighton fans over the past two home matches in which the Albion have taken 46 shots but scored only one goal. And that came from a right back.
As Brighton’s lead striker, it is understandable that Maupay has born the brunt of supporter criticism. And yet… it is hard not to feel that he is being made a bit of a scapegoat for Brighton’s problems in front of goal at the same time.
Maupay is not the only one passing up easy opportunities to score. Name an Albion player and it is easy to think of a catastrophic miss attached to their name. Aaron Connolly? Defying the laws of physics to head high and wide from two yards out against Sheffield United. Alireza Jahanbakhsh? Hitting the post with a free header from three yards in the same game as Connolly’s woeful effort.
Leandro Trossard? Hit the woodwork three times in one match. Adam Lallana? Looked like he was playing fly-half in the Six Nations when he blasted two efforts over the bar against Crystal Palace. Danny Welbeck? Fluffed a couple of one-on-ones on his full debut against Burnley.
Alexis Mac Allister? Off target header in the first 10 minutes versus Villa. Lewis Dunk? Numerous free headers from set pieces he has not done well enough with. Dan Burn? Appeared to fall over his own leg like a wounded giraffe when ballooning a one-on-one into the Kop at Liverpool. I could go on, but there is a word count to adhere to.
To say that Maupay is the main reason Brighton are not scoring enough goals is too simplistic a view to take. It is the entire team that has not been clinical enough. In fact, the Frenchman’s tally of seven stacks up well for a striker playing for a side who have spent most of the campaign in the bottom six – and he is only three goals shy of his 2019-20 total, a season in which most people agreed he was rather good.
Maupay’s game is also about much more than goals. He is an absolute menace to play against, he never gives defences a moments rest and his hold up play is surprisingly good for a striker who is not exactly blessed with height.
That is an important attribute to have, especially as Graham Potter has adopted a more pragmatic style since the turn of the year. Brighton now try to get the ball into dangerous areas much more quickly, which can leave Maupay isolated. His ability to look after possession and bring others in comes to the fore in such situations.
If Maupay was a better finisher, he would be playing for a much bigger club than Brighton. His seven Premier League goals have come from 53 shots at a conversion rate of 13.20 percent. He is underperforming his xG by around 10 goals in 2020-21. This is not anything new; at Brentford he was also wasteful, even when notching 25 times in the 2018-19 season which convinced the Albion to spend £20 million to secure his services.
It is all rather reminiscent of another Brighton striker from the not-too-distant past. Remember Ashley Barnes? He too worked ridiculously hard, was a good hold-up player, chipped in with a reasonable amount of goals but also missed a ridiculous number of easy chances.
Barnes putting the rebound after Kasper Schmeichel saved his penalty away at Leicester City in 2012 into orbit from four yards out was a miss even more astonishing than anything the Class of 2021 have conjured up. Barnes and Tomasz Kuszczak nearly came to blows on the King Power Stadium pitch after the full time whistle because of it.
Like Maupay, Barnes also divided opinion. He was the ultimate marmite football. You either loved him or did not rate him and the Albion fanbase was pretty much split down 50-50 lines. Nobody admits to that anymore of course; since Barnes left seven years ago and has proven himself a capable top flight footballer at Burnley, every Brighton supporter said they always liked Barnes and that it was a mistake to let him go. Which is rewriting history.
It was only once Barnes left and became a menace for another team that a lot of Albion fans truly realised what he had brought to the party and why he was one of Gus Poyet’s most trusted players. People used to judge Barnes on not scoring enough goals and missing far too many easy chances, ignoring all the other stuff he did.
Right now, Maupay is in the same boat. He needs to improve his conversion rate, nobody can deny that. But his all-round game is important to the way Potter wants to play and that means his role is about more than scoring goals.
Learn the lessons from Barnes and try and appreciate Maupay now, so you do not have to pretend to have always liked him in seven years time.