Tactics writer Sam Tighe previews Southampton's trip to Brighton in the Premier League, as Saints get set for their last away game of the season.
What’s on the line for Brighton this weekend as Southampton travel to the Amex?
Brighton have been one of the Premier League’s big success stories this season. Despite having to sell key players both in the summer and in the January transfer window – and being forced into a managerial switch in September – they’ve improved on last term’s ninth-placed finish and are firmly in the hunt for European football.
They’ve done so while playing some of the most attractive football in the league, bringing through some excellent young players and scoring a lot of goals.
They’re in the midst of an almighty fixture crunch, playing back-to-back midweeks to catch up on games after an FA Cup run, and the opponents they’ve played have been really tough, but they’re pouring everything they’ve got into finishing strong.
What’s been so impressive about Brighton’s play?
At 58 per cent, Brighton average the second-most possession per game in the Premier League, only behind Manchester City. It’s exceptionally rare for a non-traditional top six team to rank so highly in this simple metric, which underlines how comfortable they’ve grown on the ball – and how often they dominate games.
They involve the goalkeeper heavily in build-up and work the ball around the back line to create an avenue to move forward; sometimes, the centre-backs stop still and put their studs on the top of the ball, baiting an opponent’s press so they can play around it or through it.
In Kaoru Mitoma they have one of the league’s most devilish dribblers, striker Evan Ferguson excels with his one-touch lay-offs to his midfielders, and the full-backs play a big part in the attacking phase too.
With the help of World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister in midfield, they make smart decisions on the ball and move it patiently while waiting for an opening. That allows them to build momentum and pressure that opponents often fall to.
How can Saints spoil their day?
In amongst an impressive set of recent results for Brighton, there is one massive outlier: a 5-1 home loss to Everton a couple of weekends ago.
The pattern of the game was set by a first-minute breakaway goal from Abdoulaye Doucouré, then Everton continued to do the same thing over and over with great success: dribble aggressively with the ball into space to gain ground, then pick out the late midfield runner with a cross so he can finish.
This approach requires strong defending from a deep position, an ability to carry the ball into space, and an eye for goal from a midfield runner. Southampton can combine all of these ingredients with the help of the likes of Carlos Alcaraz and Kamaldeen Sulemana on the way to spoiling Brighton’s day.
Predicted XI (4-2-3-1): Steele; Groß, Dunk, Colwill, Estupiñán; Caicedo, Gilmour; Enciso, Mac Allister, Mitoma; Ferguson.
- De Zerbi is facing major fixture congestion – but also a mounting injury list
- Colwill was rested against Newcastle due to fatigue, but should return to the XI here
- There are options up front with Ferguson battling Welbeck and Undav for a role
- Groß and Caicedo often switch positions, as the former gets on the ball and the latter covers him defensively
- Gilmour is enjoying a run in the team in central midfield