Brighton Season Preview: can the Seagulls survive?

They’re back. After 34-years away, Brighton & Hove Albion return to the top flight, booking their place with three games to spare. Were Chris Hughton’s promotion-winners the best Seagulls side younger generations of fans have ever seen? Brighton Fanbase talk to The Football Lab ahead of the new season.

Last season was an incredible season for the club and it will live long in the memory of every Albion fan. Those who have been supporting the club since the turn of the century will definitely say that this is the best team they’ve ever seen. We’ve some had some good players and good seasons in the championship over the last couple of years but last season really showed that we had a group of players that were willing to fight for the club and were desperate to achieve something special. I’m sure the older generation of fans we remember our glory days of the late 70’s and early 80’s and maybe even earlier than that. But there’s no doubt last season was one of our greatest ever.

You consistently used 4-4-2 last season when almost all Premier League sides favour more numbers in midfield. Does the signing of midfielders Pascal Gross and Mathias Norman suggest a change of tack?

I think so. Pascal Gross was our first signing of the summer which shows how keen Chris Hughton was to bring in a number 10. Gross has impressed so far in pre-season operating in that space behind the striker. He’s already showing signs that he could be a big player for us this season.

Like Gross, left-back Markus Suttner signs from FC Ingolstadt 04. Is it difficult not to read something into the fact that they were part of a side relegated from the Bundesliga?

On paper it’s obviously a slight concern that Gross and Suttner played in a side that were relegated last season. However, it’s important for us in this situation to look at the individual player. They both look like decent players with some quality attributes that could really improve the team. Of course the only question mark is will they be able to perform at the highest level in England. But that is the question surrounding every player in our squad this season. In Suttner’s case, I would expect him to our first choice left-back, and his left-foot looks a real danger from set pieces which could be a crucial component for us.

Centre-back Lewis Dunk and ball-winner Dale Stephens have been among the best players in the Championship for some time now. Do they deserve a shot in the Premier League?

There’s no doubt that the majority of our squad who have not played in the premier league so far in their career’s deserve the chance. Dunk was outstanding for us last season and he has really grown in to a leader. It’s been well documented that Stephens has had the chance to move to a premier league club in the past, but Albion’s gamble of keeping him here until the end of his contract paid off. It’s going to be a step up for both players but I think they have the right qualities to succeed at the top level.

Connor Goldson and Shane Duffy have both excelled alongside Dunk but have picked up injuries lately. Do you expect Uwe Hunemeier to start as the other centre-back?

Fortunately, all of our four centre-backs have returned to full fitness ahead of the new season. Duffy and Dunk will certainly be the first choice partnership, but we are lucky to have very good replacements who both deserve a chance in the top flight. Hunemeier was one of our best players during the run-in last season and it’s great to see Goldson make a full return to fitness after his heart surgery.

Bruno has done well over the last two years, but he is 36 now. Can he handle the step up?

There’s never been a doubt about Bruno’s quality as a player. The only concern is that he may get caught out against the pace and power of some of the wingers in the Premier League. But if any one can handle the step up, it’s Bruno.

33-year-old Glenn Murray has only scored 11 Premier League goals in his career. Though an excellent Football League goalscorer, does he have the fitness for the top flight?

Murray’s game has never been about his fitness or his work rate. He’s the sort player that you can rely on to score goals in at any moment in any game. He may be coming towards the end of his career but he will certainly feel he still has a point to prove in the Premier League.

Anthony Knockaert was the jewell in Brighton’s crown last season. Will he have the same type of role in the top flight, or will he have to be more disciplined?

Knockaert won all the plaudits for his attacking play last season but the side of the game that goes unnoticed to those that don’t watch us play often is his workrate. That’s why the Albion fans love him so much because he has both sides to his game. I’m sure Hughton won’t want him to lose any of his creative license and we are going to need him to contribute just as much in front of goal this season.

Jiri Skalak didn’t have his best season last year, Solly March is injury prone and you might question whether Jamie Murphy is Premier League material. Are you hoping for another wide man to sign?

Skalak, Murphy and March have all been a part of the promotion winning squad so rightly deserve their chance in the Premier League. However, I’d be surprised if Skalak and Murphy were able to make the step up. We’ve signed Izzy Brown on loan from Chelsea, who will be able to operate out wide so I wouldn’t expect any more signings in that position.

David Stockdale has left for Birmingham, replaced by Maty Ryan. Do you think his blunders at Norwich and Villa at the end of last season influenced that change?

I was surprised that Stockdale didn’t fancy another crack at the Premier League, there’s no doubt that he would have got the chance. But if you can read between the lines then it seems that his decision to leaves was due to family reasons, which is absolutely fair enough.

Brighton aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Premier League season as a whole?

It’s going to be another typical Premier League season full of surprises. The amount of being spent on transfer fees has been well documented and perhaps it’s now tougher than ever for a club like us to compete at this level. We always expect the title race to be closely competed but that hasn’t been the case over the past few seasons. If Manchester City, who we face in our first game, don’t win the league with the squad that they have and the money that they have spent then there will be questions asked of Pep Guardiola. West Ham have made some good signings and could be the side to break in to the top 7 this season. The mid table sides look like they have really established themselves now, so I would expect the 3 promoted sides to face a battle to stay up. Although I have a feeling that Huddersfield will do it so watch this space!

Where will you finish? We were both spot on with 2nd last time…

It’s always nice to get a prediction right, especially when it’s your own club in such an unpredictable league like the championship. The main aim for us simply has to been survival. I think every Brighton fan would take 17th place right now, but we all know that we are going to be huge underdogs and that it’s going to be a big challenge. I’m confident that if we stay up they we can establish ourselves in the Premier League with the infrastructure we have at the club. That first hurdle is always going to be the hardest, but everyone at the club will give it everything. My head says we will go down, but my heart believes we can stay up. If we can sign a few more players then I’ll go with 16th.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

As well as Brighton did last season, summer recruitment has looked a little modest. Increased fitness levels in the top flight could make life hard for an aging squad, much of which lacks pace and is yet to taste football at this level. 20th

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