Sam Tighe takes a closer look at why Brighton's points tally does not reflect their underlying statistics ahead of Sunday's showdown with Southampton. It's the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with Sportsbet.io.
South coast rivalries will be renewed this weekend as Brighton & Hove Albion make the short trip west.
All three recent Premier League meetings between the sides at St Mary’s have resulted in a draw, so Saints will be looking to go one better and secure their first three-point haul at home in March.
Here are the three keys to doing so.
Ensure Brighton remain “unlucky”
Brighton have been at the centre of a data analytics debate that’s hit the mainstream this month, thanks to their rocky relationship with the Expected Goals (xG) metric.
However much credence you choose to give it – and it does vary, wildly – it can stand a useful figure for measuring the quality of the chances you create and give up, and therefore provide a baseline for analysis.
What it can also do is highlight who is getting unlucky, and that’s where Brighton come in. We’re into the final quarter of the season, they’ve played aesthetically pleasing football throughout, consistently created chances of either high quality or in high volume, largely limited their opponents’ threat... and sit 17th, with 26 points from 27 games.
Like last weekend’s opponents Sheffield United, the large majority of the Seagulls’ games (23 of 27) have been settled by one goal either way. The margins are often fine, and due to poor finishing and spurned chances, they’re often falling on the wrong side of them. Perhaps there’s a case for saying Brighton are creating the sort of chances that their forwards struggle to finish.
Southampton’s first job is to ensure that trend continues. However deeply you wish to analyse it, Brighton’s difficult season is a case-in-point on the importance of taking your chances because goals shape and change games – and the first goal in a Premier League match is critical.
Ibrahima Diallo and the midfield battle
Diallo’s return from injury has been a huge positive for Saints – particularly given Oriol Romeu has been ruled out for the season – and after being cautious with his workload midweek, he figures to take on an important role on Sunday.
The way Brighton build play from the back – rarely direct and long, often short and slow –makes for the sort of tactical matchup Ralph Hasenhüttl enjoys the most. The more passes during build-up, the more opportunities there are for turnovers and transition attacks.
Key to breaking things up and hunting the ball down will be Diallo, whose ball recovery ability and remarkable speed getting about the pitch have already become so valuable to Saints.
He’ll come up against an opponent in Yves Bissouma who has shone throughout this season thanks to his ability to do almost everything well: he’s controlled, composed, solid and offers a creative touch at times.
Watching Diallo and Bissouma vie for supremacy in midfield will be a treat.
Striking tandem’s movement
One of the two goals Brighton conceded to Leicester City last weekend was appreciated up and down the company due to the quality of the pass in the build-up.
Youri Tielemans’s disguised, threaded delivery fooled everyone except the intended recipient, Kelechi Iheanacho, pulling the Seagulls apart and leaving him one-on-one to finish off.
It was a beautiful pass, but there’s more to the goal than that. Iheanacho’s movements as a second striker, playing a little deeper than Jamie Vardy, draws the centre-back up the field and into an aggressive position – from which he misses the ball and creates a lane for the ball.
That’s a clear hallmark of Brighton’s defensive line: to step up, to pursue the ball, and it’s natural territory for a team who play pressing football and operate with a high line.
It can also be exploited, particularly when an opponent uses a forward duo and mixes up the runs – one in behind, one to drop off into the space created – which is precisely the dynamic Southampton run.
Add in clever rotations from Takumi Minamino and Stuart Armstrong from the flanks and it will become difficult for Brighton – particularly in transition.