It’s been another busy transfer window for the Albion. Once again breaking its transfer record, that’s for the third transfer window in a row and for the sixth time in the last five windows. The Albion have so far made a total of seven first team signings, all of which look to have improved on the squad depth and quality from last season, whilst at the same time filling any gaps left by departing players.
Florin Andone was the Albion’s first signing of the summer and adds much needed depth in the striker area. The Albion were far too reliant on Murray and Gross for goals and chance creation last season and adding extra quality in this area would have been top of the priority list of the recruitment team. The reliance on them in attack is demonstrated by a number of stats, for instance Murray and Gross between them contributed 19 of the 33 league goals Brighton scored last season.
The football statistics website Squawka said of the Romanian striker: “the striker is a proven goalscorer when the system fits him, having scored 27 goals in 58 games while at Cordoba. His effect at Brighton will be down to how well the Seagulls can cater to his strengths.”
Last season Hughton set up the team to get the best out of Glenn Murray and he did his job accordingly by scoring 14 goals in all competitions to help fire Brighton to safety. However, because of the lack of options and the underperformance of Anthony Knockaert, the Albion were at times quite one dimensional. Therefore, its important both Andone and January signing Jürgen Locadia make an impact to give Hughton more options on how to set up the team in order to get those all-important goals.
Leon Balogun was the Albion’s second summer signing and one many fans will know the most of given shortly after signing we had the chance watch him represent Nigeria at the World Cup.
The one striking thing about him to me though more than his football ability is his character. He has spoken insightfully about racism in German football to the BBC’s World Service and written articles about his upbringing in Germany as a dual national, something topical in football currently. He comes across a very grounded man and one that could fill the hole left in the dressing room by departing players like Liam Rosienior and Steven Sidwell that Hughton will have relied on in the past to uphold the Albion’s highly thought of team spirit. Something German football journalist and Albion fan Jonathan Harding echoed to the BBC back in May.
Following the departure of Tim Krul and Niki Maenpaa, new signings Jason Steele & David Button will provide competition for Maty Ryan for the number one shirt, whilst helping to fill the Premier League squad homegrown players quota. That said, one of them will be needed to step up when Ryan leaves to represent Australia in the Asia Cup, which starts January 5th and ends February 1st. Assuming Australia go all the way, Ryan would be ruled out for at least 4 league games (potentially 5 or 6 depending on when he leaves to meet up with the squad), plus 1 or 2 FA Cup games and both legs of a potential League Cup semi-final, ambitious but true.
Those 4 league games include a home game against Liverpool and a trip to United. So, whoever comes into the team for Ryan could well be busy! These follow a trip potentially reuniting David Button with his old team Fulham and finally the Albion face Watford at home.
New signing Yves Bissouma announced himself to Albion fans last weekend with a terrific free kick goal in a friendly against Birmingham. Signing from Lille the Mali international chose to sign for the Albion over Portuguese champions and 11th ranked team in Europe, Porto. As has been pointed out by many already, as well as being a good bit of business by the Albion, this is a sign of the power the Premier League possesses for a side like Brighton, relative newcomers, to win a transfer battle with two times European Champions Porto.
For me, Yves Bissouma could be the best addition, giving the Albion something that we lacked last season in the middle of the pitch. However good Pröpper and Stephens were last season, and they were great, as a team we lacked a threat going forward from that area of the pitch, increasing the reliance on Pascal Gross and Glenn Murray to provide the goals. From his time in France, Bissouma has shown he is able to add defensive stability as well as an attacking threat at the same time. In Squawka’s analysis of the new signings they underlined this by stating that Bissouma is “able to contribute in both defence, with his tackling ability, and attack – having completed 3.2 take-ons per 90 last season”. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him replace Stephens, or more likely Pröpper, in the starting eleven.
So, to Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who broke the Albion’s not so long-standing transfer record. The man from Iran comes with a lot of interest from his home country, you only need to look at the amount social media comments that have appeared of late on anything Brighton associated that are in Persian to notice that. The transfer saga also caught the imagination of the Albion faithful and his signing was met with an out pouring of joy on all forms social media. For many it was caused just because of the joy and relief of beating Leicester City to his signature.
For all the hype he will be expected to hit the ground running, which as shown by Izquierdo and Locadia’s initially slow starts with the Albion could prove to be tough, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the bench in early season matchdays. However, I think he will at least add a much-needed extra level of depth to the squad in wide areas, providing added competition for the existing wide players Izquierdo, March and Knockaert.
He looks like a wide player in the mould of Hughton’s liking, whilst often starting from a wide position, he likes to cut inside and create something from central areas, through either a shot or a pass. This type of play from Albion wide players last season helped allow Gross to often drift out or full backs to push on into the wide areas as they did to such good effect last season.
That said, the Dutch league isn’t the top level of European football it used to be, and for every Luis Suarez style success there is an Afonso Alves style flop, so you may call the signing a little speculative. But he does come with a high rating, for instance Jacob Steinberg wrote in the the Guardian’s Albion season preview that “The 24-year-old’s arrival demonstrates that Brighton’s recruitment team are endeavouring to think outside the box. A determination to look in places others are ignoring allows them to find young, hungry and affordable players who still have time to improve.” I’ve praised the Albion’s recruitment on my blog time and time again and whilst it’s still unknown whether Alireza will succeed with the Albion, his signature feels like a statement of intent
Bernardo will become the first Brazilian to play for Brighton in its history but don’t let the goal in a pre-season fixture with Crawley fool you, he is a full back more in the European mould than the South American mould. Having previously played at RB Leipzig, a team known for their high tempo and defensive organisation this should be no surprise. Signing for a reported £9m this sounds like a lot for a full back but shows how highly the Albion recruitment team rate him, but also how important the full back positions are to Albion’s width. As pointed out above, the wingers will often drift inside leaving space which the full backs are often expected to make use of, making good full backs critical at both ends of the pitch. I suspect Bernardo may replace Bruno in Albion’s notional first eleven, but he can play on either side of the back four.
As I’ve pointed out in previous blogs, the Albion were lucky last season with injuries. As a result many squad players like Connor Goldson and Sam Baldock went largely unused, hence the keenness from them to leave for pastures new this summer. A stronger squad in case of any potential injury crisis will at least best prepare the Albion for this eventuality whilst keeping those in the first eleven on their toes. If we had a run of injuries of the like that we did in the 15/16 season that coincided with a bad run, including a 3-0 home defeat to Middlesbrough, which ultimately may have cost the Albion promotion that season, it could cost the Albion Premier League status once again.
Therefore, the business done by the seagulls this summer whilst maybe speculative in some areas like the signing of Jahanbakhsh, looks to have given the Albion a level of squad depth and an increased variability of options not seen before, certainly in my memory.