The theme at Brighton and Hove Albion’s three-day board meeting in May, shortly after a record-breaking season, was how can we get better?
Much of the talk centred on such matters as narrowing the gap on wealthier rivals via smart recruitment, commercial activities and more productive revenue streams.
Performances on the pitch are the domain of head coach Graham Potter and his staff, but improvement will not be easy in that respect following a ninth-place finish with 51 points.
That obliterated the previous best performances in the Premier League by six places and 10 points respectively.
Brighton did an awful lot right in the 2021-22 campaign, but some aspects did not go so well. So how do you beat that, particularly when lots of rivals have a lot more spending power?
The season ended at the Amex Stadium with a feel-good factor as West Ham were beaten 3-1. The ground was buzzing while Potter and his players were joined by family members and friends on a warmly celebrated lap of appreciation.
The comeback victory from a goal behind at half-time against West Ham followed the 4-0 trouncing of Manchester United in the penultimate home game.
Those two wins were as many as in the previous 15 home games combined, the seven goals scored more than in the previous 11 home matches.
You get the picture. The record at the Amex overall was pretty wretched, 16th in the home-only table with five wins and 19 goals across 19 fixtures.
Dominating possession is not necessarily a good thing. Potter’s team struggled most at home when they had a lot of the ball without injecting any tempo against teams defending compactly in a low block.
The tendency then is to overplay and become too intricate.
Turning some of the seven home draws (only Crystal Palace with eight had more) into victories is a sure way to keep most of the supporters happy more of the time.
So why do Brighton not score more from set pieces?
It is an area of the game Potter has addressed – he promoted analyst Nick Stanley to specialise in set plays last season – and they are getting better at it.
The same method produced the final goal of the campaign, from Welbeck, against West Ham.
That was the eighth in total from set pieces. That may seem like a reasonable tally but, with so much attention paid to marginal gains, it placed Brighton 17th in the set play goals table.
West Ham are a prime example of the difference set pieces can make. Brighton finished only five points behind David Moyes’ side, but they amassed 15 goals from dead-ball situations. It went a long way to them qualifying for the Europa Conference League.
Brighton are getting half of the job right. They’re much more effective at stopping the opposition from scoring from set plays. They were breached 11 times by this route. Only seven teams conceded on fewer occasions than that.
Spreading the goals
Though forwards are the main source of goals, the burden needs to be shared more by midfielders and defenders.
Take out the 22 goals from Neal Maupay (eight), Leandro Trossard (eight) and Welbeck (six) and you are left with just 20 goals from the other 19 outfield players who started in the league last season.
Brighton had 13 different goalscorers. Only five clubs had less of a spread.
Mac Alister chipped in with five from midfield, while Enock Mwepu scored twice in 18 appearances, as the Zambian’s debut campaign was blighted by injuries and illness. They were special strikes away to Liverpool (which was voted goal of the season by supporters) and at Arsenal. Mwepu went close on other occasions and he has the ability to increase his tally.
Moises Caicedo showed he can pop up with a goal. The Ecuadorian’s strike against Manchester United came in only his sixth league appearance.
The bigger issue was the absence of goals from defenders. The attack-minded style of Potter provides plenty of opportunities in particular for the wing-backs to get forward when he uses a 3-5-2 formation.
Tariq Lamptey on the other flank didn’t score while Cucurella, Dunk and Veltman found the net just once, and injury-hit Webster twice.
Dunk scored five the year before, albeit from four more matches played.
Defenders are not supposed to be prolific, but an aggregate of five goals from five players leaves scope for one of those marginal gains that can make a big difference.
Although the 42 goals scored was a club record in the Premier League, it still wasn’t enough of a reward for the general play under Potter.
As the table below shows, the pattern of under-performing against expected goals has continued throughout Potter’s reign.
Brighton’s XG deficit
Turning possession into better shooting positions will help. The share of shots outside the area last season was 38.7 per cent. Only four clubs had more.
Three new signings already in the bag have the potential to boost the figures.
January capture Deniz Undav showcased his razor-sharp finishing with 26 goals in 39 appearances for Royal Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium’s Pro League.
Japanese international Kaoru Mitoma, who spent the season on loan with Undav at the club co-owned by Brighton chairman Tony Bloom, scored five goals in 11 starts and ten substitute appearances operating as both a left-winger and left wing-back.
Undav also provided ten assists — a healthy tally for essentially a goalscorer — and Mitoma four.
Potter will decide once he gets a closer look at him during pre-season whether to send him out on loan or involve the 18-year-old in the Premier League match squads when he is allowed to use five substitutes instead of three during the 2022-23 campaign.
The additions of Undav, Mitoma and Enciso could help Potter’s side to both create more chances and score more goals.
(Photo: Eddie Keogh/Getty Images)