Brighton & Hove Albion Season Preview: Seagulls soaring

With the 2018-19 Premier League season coming up, The Football Lab got the views of @BrightonFanbase, a superbly informative Twitter account dedicated to the Seagulls.

Over the last decade, you’ve arguably only had one campaign that wasn’t very positive. The main constant has been chairman Tony Bloom; surely he takes a great deal of credit for the club’s rise?

It’s hard to put into words amazing job that Tony Bloom has done for this football club. He’s overseen our rise from the depths of League One to Premier League survival. He’s built our stadium, training ground and a successful recruitment system that allows to progress season on season. His next challenge is to establish us as a Premier League club and, if this summer’s transfer activity is anything to go by, he’s giving it a right good go.

Maty Ryan started all 38 games last season and kept an impressive 10 clean sheets; no side outside the top seven kept more. Which performances stand-out as his best?

It’s difficult to say, Maty Ryan was excellent for us in his debut season at the Albion and after his World Cup exploits this summer, he looks in a good position to continue his form in to the new season. He’s a very good goalkeeper and we have done well in bringing him to the club.

Another excellent addition was Pascal Gross, who not only managed six goals and eight assists but also showed an immaculate work ethic. Given that both he and Ryan were not exactly established in England before they arrived, how much credit does Chris Hughton and the recruitment team deserve?

They recruitment team deserve a huge amount of credit, not just for the signing of Gross, but for the work they’ve done in the transfer market since Hughton joined the club in 2015. Pascal Gross is just one of a number impressive signings that the club has made, but there’s no doubt he is the standout one. To come to the Premier League for £3m and perform like that in his debut season is seriously impressive. The best thing is he is only going to improve.

Bruno and Gaetan Bong look comfortable making back-post clearances and doing the simple things. However, are you hoping that new full-back Bernardo might offer more audacity in the opposition half?

Going in to the summer transfer window I think a lot of fans were hoping we’d be able to bring in a young full-back who could eventually replace Bruno. Albion did that by signing Bernardo. As a Brazilian full-back Albion fans are expecting to see a player with flare and skill and Bernardo has shown that so far in pre-season. It’s difficult to criticise as an attacking full-back, he’s always been good forward even at the age of 37, but there’s sometimes been question marks about his defensive abilities.

Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy started every league game bar one together at centre-back last season. Could the consistency they have built up make it hard for new signing Leon Balogun to find a place?

It will be difficult for Balogun to come in and go straight in to the side, especially after his World Cup campaign. Hughton will likely continue with Dunk and Duffy at centre-back, but Balogun has been bought in to provide real competition to those two. He will be a solid player to come in to the side should either them be unavailable.

Dale Stephens and Davy Propper seemed to form a solid midfield pairing at times last season. When the latter got injured, how do you feel Beram Kayal fared?

Stephens and Propper formed a good partnership in their first season playing together. They understand each other well and most of their work goes unnoticed. Kayal is solid player to come in to central midfielder, but he isn’t quite on the same level as those two.

You’ve added further to your midfield options by signing from Lille Yves Bissouma; one of four new players who are under 26. Has Hughton been keen to lower the average age of the squad?

Leon Balogun is the only summer signing over the age of 30 and five of the eight summer signings are 25 years or under, so it’s great to see that Hughton is obviously thinking about the long-term with the club. Yves Bissouma is the youngest of those players who have arrived at the club this summer, and he looks like a real talent. He had a breakthrough season last season with Lille and he could be the player that we see in the centre of midfield for the Albion for a long time to come.

Anthony Knockaert was excellent during your 2016-17 Championship promotion campaign but, from the outside, it looks as though Jose Izquierdo was more influential in the Premier League, at least before Christmas. Is that how you saw it?

I don’t think it would be unfair to say it was a mixed season for Anthony Knockaert. After an outstanding promotion season, there was pressure on him to perform in the Premier League. He only managed 3 goals in 37 appearances and saw red against Everton in March. I think he slightly adapted his game to suit the step up in quality and his team-play and hard work certainly never goes unnoticed by the fans. Maybe with the eyes off him this season, as well the increased competition in his position, we may see a rejuvenated Knockaert.

Iran star Alireza Jahanbaksh has joined from AZ Alkmar. With Jamie Murphy leaving, do you welcome more competition on the flanks?

Alireza Jahanbaksh arrives on a five-year contract for a club-record fee of £17million. This is the marquee signing that Albion fans hoped we would make this summer and Alireza arrives as the poster boy of Iranian football after an outstanding season in the Eredivisie with AZ. He didn’t quite have the impact that he would have wanted in the World Cup, but he will be a key player for us this season. Perhaps there is less pressure on him given that he is just one of eight summer signings, but Albion fans are certainly expecting this man to make the impact and give us a different dynamic in attack that we didn’t have last season.

Glenn Murray did admirably to score 12 top flight goals at 34, but it seemed palpable that his lack of pace meant you had to have the midfield close to him. Are you hoping Percy Tau and Florin Andone will give you different options?

Glenn Murray was fantastic last season and to score 12 top flight goals at his age is a great return. Percy Tau is set to be loaned out to a European club, but there is a lot of excitement around the signing of Andone who arrives with a decent record in Spain and the credentials to do well in the Premier League. It’s also a big season for Jurgen Locadia who should have settled in by now. Hopefully he can start finding the back of the net more often.

Seagulls aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the Premier League season as a whole? How do you assess your competitors?

Top 6 clubs are out of the picture for us, but hopefully we can pick up some points against them like we did last season. The likes of Wolves and Fulham who have come up, have recruited really well and should be really competitive in mid-table and both could finish in the top half. West Ham should have a better season than last with the signings they’ve made. Apart from those three teams, any of the ‘bottom-half’ sides could end up being relegated. It will be interesting to see how Burnley fair with European football and how those promoted sides do.

Where will you finish?

A strong transfer window has injected a sense of optimism and excitement for our second season in the Premier League. Albion’s first and main objective will be to stay-up and any place above last season’s 15th finish will be a bonus. I think the fans are most excited about what these new young players can bring to the club and if they gel quickly, we could be looking at a top-half finish. For us, it has to be about turning those home draws in to win and be more competitive away from home. The new signings should be allow us to do that. My prediction is 12th.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Brighton & Hove Albion retain a reliable defensive spine including outstanding goalkeeper Maty Ryan, plus stalwarts Lewis Dunk and Dale Stephens. Equally, Chris Hughton has freshened up the squad by adding exciting, foreign players such as Florin Andone and Alireza Jahanbakhsh. This Seagulls squad looks sufficiently balanced for them to not only avoid relegation, but begin to look towards the top half. 11th