Albion start the season with a familiar look, but a newfound vigour

Brighton’s season opening victory at the self-dubbed “Theatre of Dreams” was their first there in the club’s history, a remarkable day, and a piece of Albion history.

But not as remarkable a victory as it may first appear. This was actually Brighton’s 4th win over the Red Devils in the Premier League, the equal most wins by Brighton over any team in the Premier League, the others being Arsenal, Newcastle, Watford, and West Ham.

Leaving the only existing and continuous Premier League team that Brighton have failed to beat in a Premier League match as Chelsea, with Albion’s record against them currently standing as 4 draws, 6 defeats. No doubt a record Mr Potter will have an eye on, but that’s one for another day.

Pascal Gross got the much-deserved headlines for his two goals in an impressive performance, but one of the lesser spoken of elements from last weekend’s win was the impact of the lesser seen combination of Danny Welbeck and Adam Lallana. Two players with histories of injury troubles that have limited their respective game time since joining the club in 2020.

Welbeck and Lallana played a total of 1,478 minutes and 1,561 minutes of Premier League football respectively last season, out of a total of 3,420. With their on-pitch minutes totalling a respective 1,545 and 1,596 during the previous 2020/21 Premier League season.

However, when they do play, particularly together, Albion are a better team. A fact demonstrated by their points per game averages from last season with only four Albion players averaging higher. (Points per game: Lallana 1.5, Welbeck 1.4, Brighton’s average 1.34)

Not that you’d realise it from the reaction on social media to Adam Lallana’s selection in the starting line-up. Criticism that would soon be made to look absurd and highlight just how undervalued the 34 times capped ex-England international really is amongst large portions of the club’s support.

The introduction of additional substitutions this season will give Graham Potter the flexibility to use Welbeck and Lallana in more games, whist potentially maintaining their limited number of minutes across the season, which could prove to be a huge bonus.

The reality is that as the season goes on, both Lallana and Welbeck will likely have to be used sparingly. Meaning the likes of their second half replacements Undav and Mwepu, alongside the likes of younger prospects Ferguson and Alzate, will all need to step up and fill the holes they have left.

One of the four players who did have a better points per game record last season was Moises Caicedo. Since he has come into the team for the win over Arsenal at the Emirates in April, Brighton have achieved a points per game average of 2.22. The equivalent of 84 points over a 38-game season, which would have secured 3rd place in the Premier League last season.

Even more astounding is that seven of those nine games were against teams who finished in the top half of the Premier League last season and included wins away to Arsenal, Spurs and wins both home and away against Man United.

If we include the goalless draw with Norwich at the beginning of April, that’s 21 points accumulated from the last ten matches, an astounding total, and a good enough sample size to suggests something has really clicked for Graham Potter’s side of late.

The bigger picture of course is that form is temporary, and class is permanent. Let’s not get carried away, Brighton aren’t in the same class as the teams competing at the top end of the table. Demonstrated by Albion’s club record breaking losing run in the topflight of six consecutive defeats falling immediately prior to this good run of form.

The remarkable thing about last season wasn’t just the terrible home form contrasting with the amazing away form, which we regularly discussed, but how relatively bad the results were against the teams at the bottom end of the table. That run of six straight defeats included a 2-0 home defeat to Aston Villa and a 3-0 home defeat to eventually relegated Burnley, as well as a defeat away to next weekend’s opponents Newcastle.

In fact, of the eleven teams they finished above in the Premier League table last season, Albion beat just two at the AMEX, newly promoted Brentford as well as eventually relegated Watford, losing four and drawing the other five. If they are going to keep up the momentum and optimism from their recent good fortunes, that will have to change.

It wasn’t long ago Graham Potter was making a frustrated comment in a post-match press conference advising fans to take a history lesson in response to what he felt was an unfairly negative reaction to a goalless draw with Leeds.

The AMEX crowd has shown itself to be a harsh critic in recent seasons, and as Graham Potter admitted himself in an interview with the Athletic last season “reputations change quickly in football”. Keeping the home fans onside may not appear like a big job currently given the recent run of good form, but they’ve experienced a lot of frustration in recent years, and a few more results like the defeats to Villa and Burnley last season could quickly change perspectives.

As I have discussed before, if Graham Potter were managing one of the club’s Brighton are competing against with the same record, he would have been sacked a long time ago. But because the club see that the bigger picture, they afford him more leniency, and have so far been proven wholeheartedly right. But that’s not to say more frustration isn’t ahead.

As Talking Tactics said this week on Twitter, “I think it is important to point out that the board and fans allow Potter this freedom to experiment. He may get it wrong in some games, but it doesn’t really matter because he will learn from the defeat and adjust accordingly. That is a fantastic space in which to work.”

It comes down to your attitude to risk. The Premier League is such a huge financial behemoth that it makes many clubs primarily plan to minimise the risk of relegation, whereas Albion have shown themselves willing to take more risks if it increases their chance of victory.

In an interview with Melissa Reddy after the win over Man United, Adam Lallana spoke about the team having “a lot of courage” and “being brave”. Many teams of Brighton’s stature, particularly on opening day, would have gone to a place like Old Trafford to defend for a point, or minimising the scale of a potential defeat. Not Graham Potter’s Albion, and their resultant away record speaks for itself.

One much spoken about aspect that may count against Albion this season are the two key players the team lost over the summer in Bissouma and Cucurella. Players who as it stands will be replaced with a combination of promoted development team players and returning loan players.

Whilst much of the talk has been about how much Albion will miss Cucurella due to the lack of left sided defensive options, last season’s record suggests the loss of Bissouma shouldn’t be understated. They won just once without Bissouma starting last season in 13 Premier League matches, compared to 11 wins over the 25 Premier League matches he started in. Whilst the additions of Mwepu and Caicedo alongside the reinvigoration of Gross and Mac Allister in slightly different roles, appears to have given Albion’s midfield a new lease of life in these post-Bissouma times. We will have to wait and see if that materialises into sustained success across the season.  

The lack of big-name replacements and additions to the squad may frustrate some supporters who are looking for some transfer window excitement, but it’s something we will have to get used to. As Paul Barber said at the recent fans’ forum, the club’s long-term strategy is to develop its own players and avoid paying big transfer fees in order to compete with the more financially replenished club’s.

As various reports have stated, the club may venture into the transfer market to buy a left-back, something the lack of a number 3 in the first team squad numbers hints to an intention towards. But with nearly £100m worth of player sales in one transfer window (and counting), you may get the impression that the club is going to splash some serious cash, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Some would say there is no excuse to not spend money. Well, how about £120m of cumulative losses from the last two reported financial years? Or that the club has only made a profit once since Tony Bloom took over as Chairman-Owner, whilst the club’s debt to him has steadily grown, and all whilst the club strives to become financially self-sufficient.

As I said in a recent piece on the club’s finances, their 2021 accounts showed transfer expenditure had increased significantly since promotion, with the club now having spent £241m in the last 5 years, but which is still one of the lowest totals in the topflight. Reflective of the stature of the club rather than its ambition.

Despite some high profile exits all the soundings from the club are that they are happy with what they have got, and happy with the model they are following. As Graham Potter said at last week’s fans forum “we have to find a strategy, we have to go on a path that won’t be straightforward. But if you believe in it enough and work hard enough, then I think you can achieve it…. I would never want to lower supporter’s expectations, you just hope they can see the bigger picture and the challenges that you have”.

This approach is relatively novel amongst the mostly big-name, big-spending reality of the Premier League transfer window. It is not without its risks, but with Tony Bloom steering the ship you know it will be a calculated risk backed up by reliable data and the brain power of the senior management at the club.

As strange as it may sound, Brighton will face tougher challenges as the season goes on than they did at Old Trafford last Sunday, as their squad depth is tested and as they look to overcome some of the issues they have faced at the AMEX in recent season.

But last weekend’s win over United showed that whilst Albion may be starting the season with a familiar look, there is a newfound vigour and a greater threat as a result. If the team can sustain this over a prolonged period and demonstrate it at the AMEX more often, continuing the success of last season is achievable despite the high-profile departures.

Drab, uninspired and winless in eleven

What has happened to the team that were one win from going top not that long ago? It’s been just 8 points gained in the subsequent 11 games, a worrying run and one that has seen Albion progressively get worse in terms of its performances.

Wednesday night saw Brighton fall to a 1-0 loss to Wolves. As Brighton chased the game in the second half, they had 63% of the possession and didn’t even manage a shot on target. Whilst Wolves had three, despite just 37% possession and already having a one-goal lead. A sign of the lack of ingenuity shown from the team that night.

Brighton’s problem in the past hasn’t been creating chances, it’s been taking them. But in more recent games creating those chances seems to have become more of an issue, and compounding Albion’s existing problem of scoring goals.

Shots per game are marginally down this season to 11.9 from 12.8 last season, despite possession being significantly up from 50.7% to 56.8%.

The quality of those opportunities does also appear to have decreased marginally too, 37% of shots this season have been from outside the box, compared to 34% last season. Whilst only 4% of shots this season have been from inside the six-yard box compared to 6% last season. That may seem small, but small margins make all the difference in this game.

As a result, the goalscoring issue has not gone away this season, with Brighton scoring 14 goals in 16 games this season. And rather than improving on last season’s woeful goalscoring record, the stats suggest this is actually becoming more of an issue. With the chances created being less frequent and of a lower quality. All of which is compounding the existing issues of poor finishing.

Part of these issues in some recent matches can be put down to the injuries to key players. On Wednesday in particular, four further enforced changes were required to an already weakened team, with key figures Dunk, Duffy, Gross and Maupay not just dropping out of the starting eleven but the matchday squad entirely.

However, injuries will happen and injury crises like this will occasionally happen too. Nonetheless, this is an expensively assembled and talented Brighton squad that should be able to manage these type of situations. The 14 players who featured against Wolves were all senior first team professionals with varying amounts of topflight experience, this was not a group of development team players. So, I think we have good reason to still be incredibly disappointed with what we saw.

Following the boos after the draw at home to Leeds and audible frustration from the stands in recent home matches, something that goes back to even pre-pandemic times, Graham Potter asked for supporters to back the team ahead of the game. And whilst we didn’t get any boos at the final whistle, the combination of the number of empty seats, the number of early leavers and the audible frustration heard in many moments during the game showed his message hadn’t been taken on board by a significant number of the AMEX faithful.

Of course, the ongoing and fastly growing concerns over COVID-19 will have led to many of those absences, but the apathy felt by supporters shown in recent matches at the AMEX and the new season ticket sharing system will certainly have played its part.

I won’t go over old ground in that regard but will instead point you to a recent piece where I discuss this. However, I did hear some (including the person sat behind me) go in hard on the individual criticism, particularly towards Mwepu and Connolly who both struggled against Wolves.

But, in my view that’s not a fair reflection of the night given it was such a terrible all round team performance. One that was disjointed and lacking creativity, so blaming one or two individuals is missing the point.

This individual criticism is a further sign of how fractured and toxic our supporter base has become. And further evidence of the greater patience and understanding required at times by the AMEX faithful.

Let’s take Connolly as an example. Yes, he was poor and showed some petulance in the second half against Wolves. But he’s been out of contention for a while, has one brief decent substitute appearance against Southampton and then is thrown in from the start due to a lack of other options, against a team who defend deep and don’t particularly suit his skill set.

That’s not to say either player or the team don’t deserve criticism, they certainly do. But let’s be reasonable, rational, and proportional in the way in which we hand it out. Rather than shouting and screaming at them simply to release the frustration.

I thought Aaron Connolly’s slow walk off the pitch when he was substituted off in the 61st minute summed up the team’s performance as much as it did his own frustration and petulance, such a lack of urgency.

A performance summed up by not taking the opportunity to catch Wolves out of position on the few occasions that we could have done and instead slowly playing the ball sideways, waiting for an opportunity that wouldn’t come.

Maybe it’s revisionism, but I’m starting to think that it’s been like this, to an extent at least, for much of the season and all those late goals have masked some of these issues and given the team’s performances an rose tinted glow.

Six of Albion’s 14 goals in the Premier League this season have come in the last 15 minutes of games. Five in 13 if we ignore Mac Allister’s consolation goal against Man City. Either way it’s not far off half of the team’s league goals this season and led to 7 of the 20 points accumulated. Without those late goals that have at times masked poor performances, Albion would be just two points off the relegation zone.

One increasingly apparent fact is that the team haven’t won a game since Danny Welbeck’s injury. Demonstrating how having him up top alongside Neal Maupay gives the team a greater variety and menace going forward. Further backed up by only 7 goals being scored in the 11 games since. A further sign of the team’s lack of depth in attacking positions as much as Welbeck’s importance to it. Not having either against Wolves was a massive loss.

All making the lack of use of Alexis Mac Allister a little perplexing. Despite making 11 appearances in the league this season, including 2 goals and an assist, he’s started just twice. Particularly given he has shown himself to be a player who can both score goals and create chances. He’s accumulated a respectable 10 shot creating actions this season, or 2.77 per 90 and is a player with a fairly consistent rate of creativity, averaging 2.42 SCAs last season and 2.81 the season before. All the more impressive considering he’s rarely had a consistent run of games in the side.

All being said, it is good to remember that there are plenty of other teams with issues. And as the old saying goes: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

The Premier League is tough, and the table shows Albion are doing ok despite their poor run and ongoing issues, sitting on 20 points after their first 16 games and 9 clear of the relegation zone.

Whilst we’ve not won in 11 matches, we’ve only lost 3 of those, one being against top of the table Man City. This Albion team may find it hard to score goals, but they don’t concede many either.

As a result, my glass is still very much half full. But Albion do need to eventually address the goalscoring issues and be careful not to fall behind the run rate required of points accumulated if they want to avoid getting themselves into another relegation dogfight.

More frustration as Albion’s lack of a killer touch cost them another win

It was another frustrating draw at the AMEX on Saturday for Albion, after what was a brilliant and entertaining performance with Lamptey and Trossard really impressing down the flank. But it was through the middle where Albion’s problems persisted.

Sometimes you have days like that where those chances just don’t go for you, unfortunately for Brighton it’s happened all too often over the past few Premier League seasons.

At the other end of the scale there is Jurgen Locadia. I don’t like to call players out too often, but what an awful performance. Possibly the worst I’ve seen from a senior, permanent Albion first team player.

In 22 minutes, he managed 5 touches, 1 pathetic shot, lost possession twice and was generally a waste of space… Can we finally give up on him now?

Before anyone tries to come to the defence of Jurgen Locadia, a reminder that the club reportedly paid PSV a transfer fee of £15m & subsequently have paid him a reported £45k a week salary for nearly 4 years.

The problem is Albion arguably don’t have the options to finally give up on him. Locadia’s appearance was just another sign of Albion problems up top. And that letting both Tau and Zeqiri go in the summer was a little reckless without a suitable replacement ready.

It may have also been a subtle message from Graham Potter to Paul Barber and Tony Bloom to try to convince them to get that striker deal done in January. But that would be a little cynical in my opinion.

There is also the fact that Evan Ferguson’s absence from the U23’s on Friday suggest he was seemingly in contention for a place in the first squad too and also a sign of the degree to which Aaron Connolly has fallen out of favour.

When you combine all that with Welbeck’s injury and Maupay’s sudden, repeated loss of form, it’s a crushing combination of factors in an area that was already an issue. And so it’s unsurprising that Albion have struggled for goals and wins of late.

Jokes about Xg underperformance and barn doors have become all too common place at Albion over Graham Potter’s tenure. Add to that the club’s seeming continued lack of hurry in their search of a striker who could solve this problem, along with the somewhat overly lenient refereeing on display at times on Saturday and you have a reasonable guess as why some Albion fans felt the need to boo at the final whistle, despite the obvious reasons not to.

Of course, when you look at the broader picture the boos at the final whistle were pretty embarrassing.

Given we ended the day 8th in the Premier League (5 places above the clubs best ever topflight finish), the club seem to have been proven right in thinking they could afford to be patient in getting the right striker in rather than just any available striker with topflight potential. We certainly can’t afford another flop like Locadia, as the drop in performance upon his introduction against Leeds proved.

As I said over the summer, we should trust the club with its transfer business, and I think that has broadly proven to be the case so far this season.

As I discussed over the summer, I suspect the theory behind Albion’s patience in their striker hunt is that scoring more goals from midfield could be the short-term solution to the sides goalscoring issue.

In particular, the recent signings of Moder and Mwepu are for me a clear sign of that, and the selection of Moder over Lallana against Leeds is a sign that the Pole is seen as one of the potential short-term goalscoring solutions.

But if Saturday is anything to go by that isn’t the case. During the 82 minutes he spent on the pitch against Leeds, Moder attempted 5 shots, none of which were on target. Taking his total in the league this season to 12 shots, 1 on target and 0 goals. Early days though.

Shane Duffy’s absence from 2 of the last 5 league games hasn’t helped either in my opinion. He has proven himself to be back to his best and is one of the team’s biggest threats in the box. Only Maupay and Trossard have a higher shots per game average (Duffy – 1.5), a fairly damning stat for many others in and of itself. Add to that his average of a goal every four shots, very good for a defender.

So, Albion’s search for a solution to their goalscoring issue continues. But whilst Maupay will get the brunt of the criticism after another goalless draw (criticism he somewhat deserves), it’s worth remembering that this is a problem throughout the squad, not just with one position or player.

Was Gross at Left Back really such a crazy idea?

We are 45 mins into the new Premier League season and Graham Potter has already started receiving criticism for his team selections, so far so normal. However, after some changes at half time, a remarkable second half turnaround followed and many have subsequently claimed this as a Graham Potter tactical masterclass by the end of the 90 minutes.… really? I’m not so sure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to criticise Graham Potter’s team selection after a victory, but neither am I going to suggest he’s some kind of tactical genius after a comeback from near comprehensive defeat in the first half. The reality, as ever, is somewhere in the middle.

It’s going to be a long season; 45 minutes shouldn’t be enough for us to class him totally right or totally wrong. This is all part of a bigger picture in terms of the process of management that is required at our club in order to succeed at the highest level.

I’ve seen a fair few people suggest Graham Potter was mad for playing a few players in less familiar positions on Saturday… because he has never done that successfully before?

Playing Pascal Gross at Left Back in the first half caused the largest consternation and proved to be a short-lived experiment. But was it really such an awful or unexpected selection?

Yes, it was unsuccessful, but we should also consider why he played Gross there before we all lose our minds after just over 1% of the season has passed.

Setting up against Burnley’s front 2 with a back 4 makes sense tactically and is something Potter has often done to match teams who play a 442, rather than use his favoured 352. Partly I assume, because of the well-known advantages down the flanks that a 442 has over it.

So, then you are looking for someone to play at Left Back, and we know we are short in that position, especially with Burn out injured and with Albion’s transfer target Cucurella not having been secured, in part due to his participation at the Olympics with the Spanish national football team. And I wouldn’t be surprised is the unexpected absence of Joel Veltman changed the plan too, a player who has filled in at Left Back and Left Wing Back in the past.

Then you’re left with the fringe and development players (those who haven’t already been sent out on loan that is). None of whom I would think would ideally want their debut to be away to Burnley on the first day of the season. Probably the most prominent of these options is Michal Karbownik, young, inexperienced, and yet to make a Premier League appearance. I can understand Potter’s hesitation in using him, but his inclusion on the bench suggests Potter wanted him available as a backup just in case.

So, then you’re looking at other options, those to be played out of position. And you’re looking at players with a degree of positional intelligence and versatility. For this you need look no further than Pascal Gross.

A huge part of Potter’s coaching since he arrived at the club has been the requirement asked of his squad for adaptability. In particular the likes of Pascal Gross and Steven Alzate, who have both been asked to play in a number of less familiar positions during that time, just as they were on Saturday.

Last season Gross played in most areas of the pitch, including at one point playing a run of games at Right Wing Back, so you can understand why Potter would turn to him as an auxiliary option in this area of the pitch.

Ultimately, Potter took a few risks in his team selection, sometimes they pay off, sometimes they don’t. But it’s taking those kinds of risks and being slightly unconventional that makes him the coach that he is.

For example, playing Solly March at Left Wing Back or Dan Burn at Left Back were similar risks in that area of the pitch which paid off. And helped both players go from fringe players who were being spoken of having possible exits, to crucial members of Albion’s squad over the past two seasons. Unlikely turnarounds seem to be the mark of the Potter era in change of the first team.

I suspect this higher level of tolerance to taking risks and trust in his players are also part of the reason why the club appointed him. The club has long realised it isn’t likely to succeed by fortitude alone and needs to out-think other clubs in various ways, not just on the pitch each Saturday afternoon.

This goes back to examples like the investment in the academy and the recruitment team back in the Championship days. This isn’t all about Graham Potter after all, it’s about the club as a whole, and the culture it is trying (and successful achieving) to implement across the entire club.

This culture goes right to the top, with Tony Bloom’s wealth originating from the gambling industry. As Sam Cunningham described in an interview with Bloom for the Daily Mail, “Bloom talks — and thinks — in edges and gains, in fortune and favour. He pauses before answering questions, always calculating.”

Tony Bloom is a discreet person, but is widely considered to be a risk-taker by nature, but a calculated risk-taker. By all accounts this appears to have been where Bloom and Potter’s predecessor Chris Hughton didn’t quite see eye to eye, particularly in terms of recruitment. Bloom knows what he wants and is willing to change if he’s sure it’s necessary.

No matter what I say, I’m sure us football supporters will continue to critique Graham Potter’s team selections, like some kind of annoying backseat driver. Particularly every time something goes wrong. And that’s ok to a degree, no one is exempt from criticism and all supporters, particularly those who’ve invested years of their time and money into following the club, deserve their opinion to be listened to.

But we also need to consider the wider context of the decisions that are being made and the thought-process behind them before we throw criticism towards senior management at the club, especially the highly scrutinised Graham Potter.

Some have likened Graham Potter’s team selections to a Roulette Wheel, but in line with the culture set down by owner Tony Bloom it is less Graham Potter’s Tactics Roulette and more Graham Potter’s Tactics Poker. This is not a random spin of the wheel, but a calculated gamble based on the limited number of cards he has in his hand. And just as in a poker game it isn’t all about one hand, in a football season is not all about one game. Sometimes you have to accept a beating for the better of your chances in the longer-term.

Risk taking of the type which saw Pascal Gross start at Left back on Saturday are part of the modern culture that the club continues to practice and will likely continue despite both the extreme disapproval of many supporters when experiments like this go wrong or the extreme praise when they work.

Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. But as they say, don’t trust anyone who hasn’t failed.

Brighton Premier League Season preview – do Albion already have the solutions to their goalscoring issue?

Albion approach a ground-breaking fifth consecutive topflight season amongst an air of frustration. Expectations are arguably higher than ever, but the lack of a new striker being signed has caused some concern, whilst a 2-0 defeat to Getafe in the now traditional final friendly of pre-season at home piling on further concern.

Concerns can quickly lead to complaints and pressure being heaped on the club and the manager. But I suspect how quickly that pressure begins to mount if the season starts slowly will depend on what business the club does between now and the end of the transfer window.

If the squad stays as it is, I doubt Graham Potter will be under pressure from the board to achieve much more than a similar performance and league position to its previous two seasons, but if the club gets a few more big signings in, particularly that highly coveted striker, then expectations will markedly rise.

But that is something which could be a double-edged sword. Realistically even if Albion do sign their reported number one target in Darwin Nunez, he’s unlikely to have much impact in their first half of the season given that he is currently out injured and when back will require some initial adaptation time. More likely is that this Albion team are where they were last season.

There has been some talk, including from Albion players, of aiming for a top half finish, but to me this feels like classic over-optimistic pre-season talk.

Anyone who has read the magazine “When Saturday Comes” will be familiar with its pre-season preview supplement with sections written by a fan of each Premier and Football League club. And will also be aware that rarely to supporters predict the type of 15th – 17th placed finish for their club that Albion have achieved in each of their past four Premier League seasons.

So, Albion currently we enter this fifth consecutive Premier League Season with a sense of Deja Vu, as yet again it begins with high expectations mixed with a sense of panic over the club’s lack of a new striker so far in the summer transfer window.

I am sure the club realise the value to the squad of adding another striker could bring to it, particularly a proven goalscorer. But it’s not as simple as just going to the supermarket and buying whatever it needs, just as so many of the ventures into the market for a striker show down the years.

Add to that the fact that most teams are looking for the same thing and it makes for a small group of highly sought-after players pushing prices to an at times eye-watering level.

There are very few players outside the top six teams that score 15 or more goals in a league season, players like that are hard to find and often the players that do are the anomalies rather than the norm.

For example, Danny Ings, who’s recent £25m move to Villa raised some eyebrows, has actually only done it just once, with injuries and form halting further profligate seasons.

Meanwhile last season’s breakout star Patrick Bamford plays in a team at Leeds United that are an outlier in terms of their style of play, creating and missing lots of chances, whilst giving away plenty at the other end. Being able to afford to do so in part, because of manager Bielsa’s well-known high expectations over his team’s highly intense working rate.

Whilst the likes of Jamie Vardy, who has turned down at least one opportunity to move to a top six club, and Raul Jimenez, signed by Wolves for £34m in 2019 (a fee then beyond most teams outside the top six, let alone a newly promoted club), are outliers in terms the quality of strikers seen at lower ranked Premier League sides.

Moreover, the example of Christian Benteke at Palace shows that a high fee and wage package along with short term success, doesn’t always lead to long term profligacy in front of goal. After signing on an initial four-year deal and scoring 15 goals in this first season for a fee of £28m in 2016, he has since scored just 16 goals in 101 appearances over the subsequent four subsequent seasons.

Rather than it being the case that spending £30m-£40m on a striker is always the solution to a goalscoring issue, examples like Benteke show that lower ranked teams and player more often than not tend to struggle to score goals either way. And it can work against you in the long run, leaving a player draining wages and stunting potential for improvement.

The average goals scored in a season by a bottom half Premier League team that has survived relegation over the last four seasons totalled 44, only four more than Brighton’s total of 40 last season. Something which was more than compensated at the back with Albion conceding just 46 goals last season compared to the 59 goals conceded on average by bottom half Premier League teams that have survived relegation over the last four seasons.

Instead, Brighton’s issue over the last season or two was more about the key moments in games too often going against them, with the team’s lack of experience often counting against it. Whether that was dropping points through late goals conceded like at home to Man United, Palace or Leicester, or whether it was key missed chances like the two penalties missed against West Brom.

In fact, it’s when in front that Albion have proved their most wasteful at both ends of the pitch, with the 25 points it dropped from winning positions being the most in the Premier League last season.

Ill-discipline comes into this too. Since being promoted to the Premier League Albion have led the way in terms of two statistics, own goals, and red cards. Red cards in particular is a worrying issue, with 14 being racked up to date, three of which coming from the club captain and talisman Lewis Dunk. The latest coming away at Wolves toward the end of last season where Albion threw away a 1-0 lead, ultimately ending with a 2-1 defeat after Dunk was sent off with Albion in the lead. An example of where their ill-discipline has cost them a lead and three potentially crucial points.

This is of course to be overly harsh on Lewis Dunk, who for a long time has been the club’s most reliable and consistent performer. A player whom without Albion would not be in the topflight. But it shows that at times we can over emphasise one issue over others and forget that even our better player make big, costly mistakes.

Nonetheless, missing goalscoring chances is clearly a big part of that conundrum and whilst I don’t think we’ve ever fully solved the issue in that area, we are now in our fifth straight Premier League season. An achievement that slightly undermines the “we need a striker” cause as it also now enters its fifth summer.

Would a 10-15 goal a season striker improve the team? Probably. Do we “need” one? No.

Yes, all the stats show Brighton don’t take as many of their goalscoring chances as they should. But assuming that one player coming in solves that issue is simply naive. Top half teams have multiple regular goal-scorers. Whereas Albion only really have Maupay. That’s the bigger issue.

In his first season Maupay looked like a player who was rough around the edges, but hungry for more and bursting with potential. But in his second he more often looked like he had the world on his shoulders, and no wonder given the poor finishing of most of his teammates.

People focus on the team’s and more specifically Neal Maupay’s underperformance against the expected goals statistic (xG), but this only really tells you part of the goalscoring tale. For a player like Maupay to have a high xG even if he underperforms against it, he needs to have the intelligence and execution in terms of movement and positioning to be in the right positions at the right time to earn those chance. Something that xG doesn’t measure and us average supporters under-appreciate, because we are too busy watching the ball.

As the past examples above show, even if Albion had scored more goals, can you rely on this team to hold onto those all leads? Probably not. So £30m-£40m on what could be a nil-sum gain is a huge financial risk for the club to take on, especially after such an unexpectedly difficult period financially.

A key part of bringing in a new striker is can you also fit Maupay into the team. If not, you’re not only losing 18 of the team’s goals (more than 1 in 5) over the past two seasons, but also a player who is key to the teams build up play. Put simply, when he is missing Albion struggle to create chances.

Albion’s end of season win over Man City is the exception to this, but City were down to 10 men for most of a game which for them was meaningless, making it a difficult situation to draw definitive conclusions from.

The other four games that Albion played without Maupay last season (Fulham away, Spurs away, West Ham home and Arsenal away) saw the team struggle going forward. In all those 4 games the team created less shots (average across those 4 games was 7.5 shots pg) than the season average shots per game (12.8), scoring just twice (half their average goals per game rate).

So, a new striker is not without its trade-offs and its potential to unbalance a team that is making great strides forward in so many areas of the pitch. So, to sign a striker to replace Maupay or anyone else, it needs to be the right player not just any old striker.

As I said at the end of last season, if we look at two teams Albion have been competing with in previous seasons that managed to lift themselves up the division last season, Aston Villa and West Ham, neither had one player on 15 goals, let’s alone 20. Instead, they had multiple goalscorers on smaller tallies, for Albion its really only Maupay. Others need to step up to take the pressure and attention off his shoulders.

It maybe that Albion already have the answers to its goalscoring problems in its midfield. If Lallana can stay fit, he has the potential to add to his goal tally of one last season. Whilst the recently added Moder and Mwepu both look like having the potential of adding goals to Albion’s midfield where others have failed to do so.

Whilst admittedly in lower standard divisions, both Mwepu and Moder scored at a high rate for their old clubs, with Moder averaging 0.3 goals per 90 and Mwepu averaging 0.22 goals per 90 in their last seasons with their previous clubs. Managing even half that rate would put them ahead of pretty much all of Albion’s misfiring midfield.

To their credit, this team tends to control more games it plays in than it doesn’t. Whilst it could have achieved more over the past two seasons with a bit better execution and decision making in both boxes, the 14 draws achieved in both of Graham Potter’s two Premier League seasons in charge at Albion show that he has made this team harder to beat whilst playing far more on the front foot, a feat that shouldn’t be undervalued.

A big part of that is how he has evolved the defence. With the signings of Adam Webster and Joel Veltman two example of how that has been achieved, by providing Albion’s back line with more capability with the ball rather than being more comfortable without it as it was under Hughton’s reign.

Ben White’s sale to Arsenal is a loss but given the depth of Albion’s squad in that area they should be able to cope without a drop in performance levels, especially given the return of Shane Duffy adding competition for places.

It may be that Duffy still leaves before the end of the window, but following his challenging exploits at Celtic I wouldn’t be surprised if he was now more willing to settle for a role as back up rather than fly the nest in search of a regular first team place. As I said last January, despite having his critics he has plenty still to offer this Albion team. His experience and know-how could be just what Albion need to resolve some off the issues it has had in throwing away leads last season.

Going into the new season with what is currently largely the same squad and front line as last season, may underwhelm some who see greater potential in this team than has been achieved over the past four seasons. But as comparisons to the teams around them show, their struggles in front of goal are far from a novel issue nor an easy one to solve.

What Brighton do have is a team packed full of talent and potential, one that has a growing amount of experience and belief in itself at this level and a coach at its head that has the ability to get the best out of it. A mix that makes for one of the most exciting seasons in the club’s history.

Finding a purpose

It’s been an odd season and one where the very purpose of football has been questioned in the light of the restrictions that have been placed on all of our liberties in order to protect public health.

As the Pandemic surged over the winter, football persevered, despite many, including the manager of the ultimately relegated West Bromwich Albion – Sam Allardyce, calling for the season to be halted.

But the season continued, initially amongst a succession of postponements due to Covid outbreaks at various clubs, and this Sunday we now find ourselves at the final round of matches after a season like no other. One that many of us will be glad to see the back of.

For Brighton it’s been an odd season on the pitch too, one that has constantly promised so much improvement, but one that as we go into the final day will most likely be delivering another 15th-17th league position finish.

Let’s not pretend survival is anything other than a success for Albion. But for the first time there is genuine reason to believe, barring a disaster of a summer transfer window, that this Albion team can push on next season. It has so much potential.

For all teams outside the established seven topflight clubs, at the beginning of a new season relegation is a very realistic possibility. But for Albion it feels like loftier ambitions than just surviving are now too a very realistic possibility.

Over the last two seasons, Graham Potter’s management has improved performances at the Albion markedly, but it is yet to achieve a consistent improvement in results and lift the team up the table towards its long term goal of established top half status.

But, whereas in previous seasons we’ve just been grateful to not be in the bottom three, this season that feeling is mixed with an increased frustration not to be higher up the league table.

Most prominently this season leaves me with a feeling of what if and not just because of all the missed goalscoring opportunities that we’ve all ranted and raved about throughout the season, but also because of Albion’s inability to hold onto a lead.

In fact Albion have led in 19 of their 37 games so far this season, but won just 9 times (as many as they won in each of their last three Premier League seasons) and dropped 25 points from winning positions, the most in the Premier League this season. And those matches don’t include a further 9 draws, many of which could have been turned into victories with better finishing. And you can add to that a fair few additional hard luck stories like the last minute winner conceded at home to Palace or the two penalties missed in the 1-0 away defeat to West Brom. I could go on…

And yet amongst the difficulties, Albion are clearly making progress. They currently hold the longest run of any team in the top two divisions without losing a game by more than one goal (28 matches). Manchester City (17) and West Ham (17) are the next nearest Premier League sides to that current streak. Chris Hughton always used to say that at 2-0 down you are still in the game, but at 1-0 you are just a moment of magic away from improving your outcomes and with it your league position.

Yes there are big issues to resolve, but there are far more positives than negatives to take from this season. In particular having a manager in charge of the club of such increasing renown as Graham Potter.

He said recently of Albion’s difficulties in front of goal. “As a coach, my number one business is to try to help the players that we’ve got to improve and that’s always where I’ll look to start. Then, as with everything, we want to try and get better, so we have to think about what we need to do to get better, but firstly it’s about improving the players we have here.”

It’s encouraging to have a manager who puts such faith in his players. This is in contrast to many other Premier League managers who are quick to talk down and criticise their players in search for an excuse to hide behind when things go wrong. This includes Scott Parker of Fulham, who has regularly publicly criticised his players this season. So it should come as no surprise that by the end of it many of them looked like they had completely lost all confidence. In contrast Graham Potter has shown great leadership this season and this has no doubt played a huge part in Albion’s survival.

Pablo Picasso once said “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Football is often an industry focused purely on results rather than the bigger picture. But listening to Graham Potter this season gives me belief that at Albion there is a bigger goal than that, creating a football team that we all can be proud of.

In a year where mental health discussions and awareness have become more prominent. I’ve had my own struggles due to personal problems and for me football has often offered a salvation from the difficulties of everyday life. Something positive to focus on and to help punctuate the gloom.

Life throws up obstacles and challenges, it rarely goes as planned and most of us go out of our way to ensure no one knows we are struggling. Empathy and thoughtfulness for others are priceless qualities that can go a long way. Graham Potter has shown in the way he has carefully and consistently defended his player that he has this in bucketloads.

In football, as in life, when someone wins someone else has to lose. So creating an identity purely around winning is always likely to lead to an identity crisis, as the recent history of clubs like Arsenal show us. An identity crisis heightened by the recent bid to join a breakaway European Super League.

In a society that feels ever more fractured and divided, the global pandemic came at a difficult time and heightened those feelings. And as our communities were closed down we became more isolated and as a society we became increasingly divided. So moments like the return of supporters to the AMEX this week for the game against Man City are so important in rebuilding those communities in a (hopefully) post-pandemic society.

In the days leading up the game I thought it would feel poignant to be at the AMEX again after over a year away, but it was in fact more like pulling on a comfy pair of slippers you’d had stuck at the back of the cupboard over the summer. Throughout the evening I felt a heightened sense of excitement and joy. Even when Albion went 2-0 down and looked to be heading towards certain defeat I couldn’t help but continue to smile.

Being part of a community of fans that brings such joy for something that is in reality quite trivial, is a reminder that together we are all stronger.

Many will depict this season as one of missed opportunities. Both on the pitch for Albion and off the pitch for us supporters who have gone so long without our matchdays. But it has also been an opportunity to assess, and if the match against Man City is anything to go by, I think we will be making the most of things from now on.

Yet another Albion home draw

Monday’s game against Everton started as a good opportunity to ease the club’s relegation worries and get back to back Premier League home wins for the first time in 17 months.

Whilst West Brom’s win prior to kick off was a reminder that Albion could not rest on their laurels on 32 points and still probably require at least another 5/6 points to be safe. So this match against an out of form and injury ravaged Everton team was an opportunity for Albion to get a much needed win.

It was a game that yet again highlighted Albion’s core strength in controlling games by building the play out from the back through its ball playing defenders. With Yves Bissouma sitting in front controlling the midfield and nullifying the opposition.

However, it’s Albion’s lack of quality in areas higher up the pitch which continued to cost it a victory in a game it dominated. As Albion created more missed chances from its strikers and more hesitant play from its creative, attacking midfielders.

That and a combination of brilliant defending from Everton means they were left with another draw, its twelfth of the season. Eight of which were at home, 50% of Albion’s home matches this season.

Teams seem to know how to stop Graham Potter’s team at home. This wasn’t the first time Albion have come up against an effective rear guard action at home and it works, as proven by the fact that despite dominating most of their 16 home league matches this season they have failed to score in 5, scoring a measly total of 16 in that time. More goals and more quality in the final third is required if they are to turn more of those draws into wins.

However, it’s too easy to just blame Maupay, Welbeck or Connolly for poor finishing, the whole process needs to be quicker. Albion’s play out of the back is often crisp, sharp and quick, but too often once the ball get into the opposition half players have hesitated on the ball, allowing the opposition to get into their defensive shape, which in turn allows less space and makes it harder for Albion’s strikers.

The Premier League’s record goalscorer and Match of the day pundit Alan Shearer said recently about Albion’s attack that: “it would definitely frustrate me as a player, because of that extra pass. The ball could come into the box a lot earlier.”

And he has a point, by the time the ball gets to strikers in the box it’s often gone side to side two or three times, allowing time for the opposition defence to close down the available space.

Albion have had more touches in the opposition third than any other team in the bottom half of the Premier League this season so far. With Trossard the king of touches in the opposition third, having had a total 631 touches in the attacking third this season or 22.5 per match.

However, whilst Trossard is a talented young player, this is not a stat I think he will be overly proud of. Albion often dominate the play, allowing Trossard more of it. But, he too often dithers on it, taking that extra couple of seconds and that extra touch or two, which allows the opposition defence to get into better positions and close the options down for Albion’s strikers.

Just as has been the case too often at home this season, once Albion did get the ball into a shooting position the space had been closed down by the Everton defence and the shooting opportunity diminished. Albion need to be sharper and quicker in the final third to win games like last night.

But, there were plenty more positives than negatives for Albion in a game where they were rarely threatened by the opposition. Everton came to defend and make it hard for us. They seemed happy with a point from the off, so it was always going to be a struggle to break them down. And so it proved.

But it’s a sign of the progress made under Graham Potter by this Albion side that so many teams now come to the AMEX to defend, expecting a tough game and believing a draw to be a good result. As opposed to what we saw previously where the opposition more often saw a trip to the AMEX as a chance to attack and win an easy three points. Unfortunately it’s that change in approach too that has largely been the reason that we have struggled to break teams down.

As the first half wore on and Albion pushed for an opening goal to break the deadlock, the game began to become worryingly stretched and open. If it weren’t for some good defensive exertions from certain individuals like man of the match Yves Bissouma, we may have been caught out.

But the second half saw Albion again dominate in a more controlled manner as Everton struggled to counter against a more disciplined and organised Albion team, whose clean sheet rarely looked in doubt.

In fact it highlighted an improvement in Albion’s defensive play, with it being their fifth clean sheet in their last seven home league matches since that wild 3-3 draw with Wolves. Lessons have been learned and the defence has been giving away less sloppy opportunities and goals to its opponents, the Palace and Leicester games aside.

Whilst there is an understandable level of frustration after yet another draw at home and yet another blank in front of goal, a point is a good result, which takes Brighton above Burnley on goal difference into 15th and edges them closer to that all important safety mark and a record 5th consecutive topflight season.

But if Albion are going to begin their push up the table in their quest for an established top half place, winning more of these games at home is the first place to start looking for progress. After picking up 3 wins in his first 6 home games as Albion manager, Graham Potter’s side have now managed just 4 wins and mustered 13 draws in the subsequent 29 home games.

Exhausted by xG?

An economics professor at my university once stated in a lecture that “economic forecasts are only right half of the time, so we may as well just flip a coin!” Whilst this was a throw away comment meant not to be taken particularly seriously, the comparison between complex statistical models used to measure probability and pure chance is a compelling one and one that I often think back to when I see statistics used in such a definitive way as they have often been to analyse Albion’s Premier League woes this season.

Albion’s season is one where the narrative has become overwhelmed by one particular complex statistical model. xG, A model used to show the expected goals scored by each team, but one that has often not been matched by the end result in Albion matches this season. There have been multiple games that xG predicted that an Albion victory was most probable, but which wasn’t achieved. Mostly because of so many missed goalscoring opportunities and a fair amount of sloppy goals given away at the other end.

This was most dramatically highlighted in Albion’s home defeat to rivals Crystal Palace who beat Albion 2-1 after managing just 3 shots, 2 of which were on target, compared to Brighton’s 25 shots yielding just one goal. That this defeat was then followed up with a defeat to West Brom where Brighton missed 2 penalties and a host of other guilt edged chances after their opponents scored early on from a corner, one of only two shots they managed on target, only increased the attention on Brighton’s misfiring strikers.

Furthermore, Brighton have had an xG advantage over their opponents of more than 1 expected goal 7 times this season, but have only beaten their fellow relegation strugglers Newcastle (twice) by a winning margin of more than one goal. The numbers tell a clear story, Albion have underperformed in front of goal this season.

We could pull these kinds of stats out about many more of Brighton’s games this season till we are blue in the face. But I’ll stop there because you’ve probably read this kind of stuff a number of times before. And yet it keeps getting discussed, mainly because it’s an easy explanation as to why Brighton have looked so good during much of the season, yet this isn’t reflected in the league table

However, despite Albion’s lack of clinical edge in front of goal, goalscoring isn’t actually a massive issue relative to its nearest rivals. After 29 games plays Brighton had the second best goal difference, had scored the third most, conceded the least and lost the least times of all the teams in the bottom half of the Premier League table.

But whilst these stats highlight some positives and improvements in Albion’s play, it is not being seen in an improvement in points gained and league position. Despite xG suggesting Albion have been better than they have managed to achieve in terms of results, they remain in their common Premier League standing just above the league’s bottom three. So the consistent and dramatic deficiency when compared to XG is raising some eyebrows, but possibly points to a deficiencies in the model itself.

We could go into detail about the ins and out of the model itself, but I don’t know how much value that would have. But in general I think that Albion are showing up the flaws of placing a lot of merit in a weighted probability model such as xG to measure the likelihood of goals being scored in a low scoring game such as football. And to a degree the weight we place on statistics generally in football.

We can all get pulled in by data analysis at times, especially when they argue for a point that we believe to be true. The increase in the use of statistics and analytics has helped us to understand the game in ways we previously didn’t. But they don’t often tell you the full story of an event, or the full reasons as for why a team dominates a particular game or a particular period of play. Maybe an early goal, an in-game injury, a number of minor tactical shifts, physical conditions or the connotations a certain result has on their league position, or simply individual errors makes a team change its approach. There are many things these generic weighted probability models simply don’t account for.

For Albion, their accumulated xG performance after 29 games puts them better off than Man United and West Ham and 4th in the xG table. In reality they are 22 points and 12 league places worse off. However only five of the 20 Premier League teams sit in their xG projected position, with 9 more than 2 positions different than this projection. Including Everton, who according to xG would sit 17th rather than their existing 8th position.

So it’s not just Albion’s whose variation compared to xG is far from accurate. But many have taken these statistical anomalies and run with them. Some have said that simply if Albion signed a £40/50m striker then they would start taking those chances and qualify for Europe, which is a huge simplification. Especially considering Albion have thrown away 17 points from winning positions this season. Albion’s problems go much further than simply not scoring enough goals.

In reality Brighton have constraints in terms of their aspirations. In particular its wage bill, which has consistently been one of the lowest in the league during its time in the topflight and yet they have spent most of their time at the top level out of the relegation zone and are not far from securing a club record fifth consecutive topflight season. Focusing on individual statistics like xG can at times mask the bigger picture. One which shows in reality Albion and Everton are probably about where they should expect to be rather than at opposite ends of the table.

Whatever the opinion, statistics don’t tell you how to solve a problem, at best they tell you how it was created. And that’s only if they data has been collected and analysed accurately and is then interpreted correctly. Much of which leads into areas of judgement and subjectivity rather than fact.

The solutions for these problems the data highlights are created by the experts. The creative minds like Graham Potter and his regular tactical switches. Minds that most football fans deep down wish they could pit their wits against, but in reality are greatly inferior to in this context.

Football is a game of opinions, not statistics. Moments of ingenuity and creativity, moments that aren’t created by data analysis of historic points in time alone, but by the invention and astuteness of those at the very top of their profession in the moment.

Whatever the data does show, the fact that Albion are sitting six points and two places above the Premier League relegation zone in their fourth consecutive topflight season should be considered an overperformance rather than an underperformance. We should stop focusing on xG and focus more on what a remarkable period of Albion history that we are currently watching.

Dan Burn – conveniently unconventional

He may not be the most technically gifted player in the team and probably doesn’t get into the Albion’s first eleven when everyone is fit, but Dan Burn has been pivotal for Brighton this season.

He is one of only five players to have featured for Brighton in all six of its league wins this season (along with Yves Bissouma, Lewis Dunk, Ben White and Neil Maupay). And he is also the only Albion player to have featured in all nine of Albion’s wins in all competitions that were inside the normal 90 minutes.

Some may be surprised to hear of his record, but it is a sign of Burn’s positional and tactical versatility, which gives Graham Potter something most others in the squad do not. An attribute that makes him so important to the squad, especially for a manager like Graham Potter who regularly alters his teams system and approach.

In Jonathan Wilson’s book about the evolution of football tactics – “Inverting the pyramid”, he ends it by foreseeing that the next stage of football’s tactical evolution would be universality within a team, leading to increased tactical fluidity and the end of set roles. Graham Potter’s management approach and Dan Burn’s adaptability are good examples of this beginning to come to fruition. Burn’s positional adaptability under Potter has turned him from a rarely used fringe player under Hughton to a key member of the Brighton squad under Potter.

Even during the early periods of the current season where Burn spent much of his time on the bench for league matches, he was often brought on as a substitute. Being used by Potter to switch the formation and adapt to the issues that were arising in the match.

But of late he has taken advantage of the opportunity that injuries to other teammates has given him, starting the last eight games in a row, his best run since last season where he was near ever-present, starting 33 of the 38 league matches.

The first of those eight matches was a perfect example of his versatility, which was used to the team’s benefit to surprise the opposition in the victory over Liverpool at Anfield. In that match, rather than in the more defensive role he is accustomed to, he was used more as wide target man/left winger.

Jurgen Klopp said after the match that his team struggled to deal with Albion’s attacks which he described as “Chipping the ball to Burn and go from there.” It certainly wasn’t a role Burn had played often before if at all, so it’s not a surprise it caught Liverpool out and was so effective. And Burn’s role in subsequent matches has seen him stay in that position further up the pitch than he’s played previously, filling in for the absent Solly March.

This trend goes back to Albion’s defeat at home to Southampton during the early stages of the 2019/20 season, when after starting the season in a back three alongside Dunk and Duffy, he was switched to left back after Florin Andone was sent off and Potter switched to a back four. Despite the defeat, his marauding and effective full back performance was a real positive and was a role Potter went onto use him in for much of the rest of the season.

Former Fulham manager and Man United coach Rene Meulensteen said of Burn last season: “He’s an ideal player for a manager because he can play in multiple positions. He’s decent on the ball with his feet for a big, tall lad. Skill-wise, he’s very well equipped.”

However, it’s not been plain sailing for Burn this season. Most notably his first half performance against Wolves when he struggled to deal with Wolves winger Adams Traore so much that he gave away a penalty, got booked and scored an own goal as Albion trailed at half time 3-1 and he was eventually subbed off part way through the second half as Albion recovered to draw the match 3-3.

But Potter was defensive of his utility man saying after the game: “Dan Burn a couple of years ago was at Wigan in League One. Rather than being critical of Dan Burn, we should be proud of him. He puts himself there, he gives his best every day, gives his best every match. It’s easy to be critical in this world and he is a fantastic professional, a fantastic person.”

Graham Potter is clearly conscious of the criticism his players are getting, particularly after making mistakes whilst being asked to fulfil at times unfamiliar roles and take big risks defensively, such as the amount of space sometimes left in defence by Burn’s marauding runs forward. And is keen to not be overly critical of his players.

But Burn is a player Potter has regularly had to come to the defence of, saying after his eye-catching performance away to Liverpool “Anyone that criticises someone like Dan Burn doesn’t understand football… I wouldn’t listen to them. It’s irrelevant to me”.

As well as the criticism, Burn has drawn praise from many areas, not just from his manager. Last season Premier League pundit Adrian Clarke said “Burn does not look like a left-back, but he has taken to his new role wonderfully” Going into say “He is comfortable moving the ball through the lines…Meanwhile, his height and defensive ability are assets out of possession.”

Even prior to March’s injury which saw him return to the left hand side, he had made the left back role in a back four his own last season and has often been used in games this season as a left sided centre back in a back three able to switch to a left back in a back four if Potter makes one of his regular in-game formation switches. An adaptability that has regularly allowed Potter to save using a substitution.

Indeed he has had to adapt and find a less conventional route throughout his career to get to the point of playing regular Premier League football. He was initially on the books of Newcastle United but was released at the age of 13 and had to work his way through a more obscure route via the youth team Blyth Town and onto Blyth Spartans. From there he was picked up by League Two Darlington before moving to Fulham in 2011.

Whilst at Fulham two loan spells followed in between a handful of appearances for the club in the Premier League. Before playing more regularly for them in the Championship after their relegation in 2014. A move to Wigan followed in 2017 where he caught the eye of the Albion scouts despite their relegation to League One and was signed by Brighton under then manager Chris Hughton in 2018.

Hughton described Burn upon joining the club as having “a wealth of experience” going into say “He’s an imposing figure and had an excellent season helping Wigan to the League One championship”. And yet Burn was initially loaned back to Wigan for 6 months before being used sparingly by Hughton mostly in cup matches, as he favoured the tried and tested partnership of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy.

Indeed it’s been a long road for Burn who admits he initially struggled during his time at Newcastle, saying: “I wasn’t very good… I was struggling to grow into my body and a little bit all over the place.” To add to the difficulties he faced whilst he was still growing into his body, he also lost one of his fingers on his right hand, when it caught on a spike while he was climbing a fence.

Yes there are many things about Burn’s development and career that are unconventional, which in many ways makes him very suited to Graham Potter’s Brighton side.

Graham Potter’s own route into Premier League management is similarly unusual. Having started as a lower league footballer, he studied at the Open University and then at Hull University before working as an administrator for Ghana’s women’s team at the 2007 women’s World Cup. He then had his first chance in management in the Swedish Fourth Division, where he took Ostersunds into the top tier and then into European competition before he moved to Championship side Swansea and then onto Brighton in 2019. An experience which means he is clearly not overly influenced by a players track record, as his treatment of Burn shows.

It’s often the case that criticism of individuals in team sports comes from the audiences confirmed bias of that individual and an ignorance of the bigger picture. I think this is often the case when it comes to Dan Burn.

For example you hear it said a lot that “Dan Burn can’t win a header despite being so tall”. This simply isn’t true. Dan Burn has won 71 aerial duels so far this season, the most in team and the 19th most in the division. Whilst last season he won 141 aerial duels, again the most in the Albion team and the 10th highest in the Premier League.

The Secret Footballer has spoken about how ignorance from supporters often leads to unfair criticism of players, including how on many occasions when a misplaced pass is made, it’s often that a teammate didn’t make the right run off the ball rather than the player passing the ball being at fault.

Potter’s Albion are a team that takes more risks than many of its competitors, particularly the players in Burn’s current role at wing back. Graham Potter seems unafraid of his teams making mistakes and is happy to place his trust in those who have made them on multiple occasions previously. In fact, it would be hard to find a player in the Brighton team that hasn’t made a few mistakes this season. But at 6”7 and playing as an eye catching marauding wingback, Dan Burn stands out more than most when they do occur.

When players reach their late 20s as Burn now has, it isn’t unusual for them to reinvent themselves positionally to adapt and maintain their position in the game. However, it isn’t as commonplace that you see a centre back doing so as an attacking wing back, let alone one that is 6”7 tall. But if history has taught us anything it’s that neither Graham Potter nor Dan Burn are conventional.

Temperament and Temper Tantrums

I took great joy in Brighton’s run to the FA Cup semi-finals in 2019 which ended with that grand day out to Wembley. Yes we’d lost 1-0 but we’d still enjoyed a wonderful occasion. The moments after the final whistle where 35,000 Albion fans stayed behind to applaud and cheer their side, drinking in every last moment of the day, will stay with me for a long time.

As an Albion fan, days like that are rare and I was hopeful that many would share my enjoyment of the day, but much of the media coverage of the game was negative. I felt many had missed the point in their comments, in particular Jermaine Jenas who in Match of the Day’s live coverage described it as a “missed opportunity” for Albion.

A few days later I listened to the Guardian’s football podcast, a regular on my podcast listening list. Their panellists were also less than complimentary about the match, with it being described in the introduction as “a game of walking football”, and the disparaging comments went on from there.

I once again felt the media was missing the sense of occasion and in the heat of the moment I took exception to their scorn and sent a critical message on Twitter. However, I was subsequently, and rightly, put in my place by the Guardian journalists I’d called out. Who in the space of a couple of hundred characters made me look like a real wally.

To me it wasn’t just any old game, this was the game I’d been waiting to see for the past two decades. Albion at Wembley in the FA Cup. Who cares if it was only a semi-final, this was Wembley in the cup! After all like many Albion fans, I was still sore from missing out on a trip to Wembley for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final after losing on penalties to Luton Town in the semifinals ten years previous.

But for everyone apart from those 35,000 Brighton fans, it was just another game and a not very entertaining one at that. Anyone still needing more convincing just need look at our opponents Man City’s tickets sales from that day, who left whole blocks empty with some being handed to Brighton to help fill the stadium.

Life as a football fan often has a habit of making us behave irrationally, letting our emotions get the better of us. Whilst social media can have a habit of reinforcing our shaky opinions the more we post them, getting likes and retweets from our fellow ignorants. You’re either in or out, and never in between, let alone changing your mind. Whether that’s with Brexit, Graham Potter’s competence or anything else, we all end up finding reasons in the things we see to reinforce our own confirmation bias and berate those who dare to disagree.

One area there has been a lot of emotion invested in of late is the aforementioned Graham Potter and his role in the Albion’s season. It’s been a bizarre season for many reasons, and the week just gone for Albion which saw defeats to rivals Palace and West Brom is yet another chapter in that story. Despite controlling on average 72.5% of possession and having 40 shots, they scored just one goals and managed to lose both games. And whilst much of the scorn has been poured onto Albion’s front line, Graham Potter has yet again taken a fair amount of flack.

It was, to a degree, just the same old story for Brighton this season. More missed chances in front of goal and more sloppy goals conceded at the other end against the run of play, all despite dominating the play. On this week’s Guardian football weekly podcast Barry Glendenning spoke about how one Albion fan had described this Albion team as equally the best and the worst in his 40 years supporting the club. I wouldn’t go that far, anyone who remembers the 1-0 defeat at home to Walsall under Micky Adams doomed second tenure as manager in 2008 would probably agree that this team is at least better than that one! And let’s not even delve into the Gillingham years.

Despite Graham Potter’s assertion this summer that he wanted to work with the players he had and coach more goals out of this team, particularly Neal Maupay, the team remains goalshy and ever more continue to justify the loud calls in the summer by many supporters to bring in a “silver-bullet” striker. Maupay himself was bold in his claims of him solving Albion’s longstanding issue with scoring goals before the start of this season, stating his hunger for more goals in his second season just as he’d done at Brentford previously.

Graham Potter has refused to publicly criticise the £20m striker, or any other players. But he didn’t shy from the wider problem of scoring goals in his post-match interview after the defeat to West Brom, admitting that “clearly” scoring goals is the issue. But went onto stress that “this is elite top level football… you’re going to suffer sometimes that’s how it is”.

We shouldn’t be surprised that whilst many fans like myself have expressed much frustration, Graham Potter stayed grounded. It’s what he does, never too high, never too low, never giving much away. Just like his predecessor Chris Hughton, and a quality seen in many Albion managers since Gus Poyet’s eventual sacking. A quality which I believe has helped consistently keep the relegation zone at arm’s length, so far that is.

Poyet’s time at the club was often tainted by his sometimes-absurd media outbursts and his relationship with the board of directors was often strained by his constant criticism of the club’s transfer policy and threats that he would leave if he felt the club had “reached its ceiling”. This rollercoaster ride culminated in a fittingly chaotic climax, which began with the play-off semi-final defeat to rival Crystal Palace. After the game Poyet made several comments suggesting he might resign and with the ultimately unrelated story of human faeces being found in the away dressing room at the AMEX hanging over the club like a bad smell, both literally and metaphorically, Poyet was initially suspended and later sacked for Gross Misconduct.

He was a brilliant manager, and a revolutionary one in many ways for the club at a time when it really needed it. Having been close to relegation to the fourth tier shortly before his arrival and with the new stadium soon to arrive, he put the club on the path it continues to follow. But his off the pitch behaviour left a cloud over his on the pitch achievements and brought unnecessary attention to the club when it often wasn’t beneficial.

So it’s no surprise that since the club have stuck with more considered personalities as head coach/manager. First the quiet Spaniard Oscar Garcia was brought in, then the unassuming Finn Sami Hyypia, before Chris Hughton and then Graham Potter were brought to the club.

Graham Potter is the next step in the evolution in terms of mentality at the club. This is in many respects, including a job title of head coach rather than manager, a degree in Social Sciences, masters in Leadership and Emotional Intelligence and a track record of working with and developing youngsters at his previous clubs he really fits the bill on paper. And the potential is there for it to be realised in practice too.

However, he has come under some warranted criticism this season. But the players have really let him down in recent matches, a subject I discussed earlier this week. However, Graham Potter kept his cool and remained calm in his recent post-match press conferences under no doubt intense questioning. I know many will disagree, but I’m pleased to see him not criticising his players in public, god knows he’d be entitled too!

As Chris Sutton said in this week’s Monday Night Club on BBC 5live about the Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel’s public criticism of some of his players since taking over recently, “[criticism in private] that’s the game, everybody has to accept criticism” but said “as soon as you go into the public arena with that, what’s the positive which can come out of that?”

Club captain Lewis Dunk told the Club website after the match at the Hawthorns – “it doesn’t help to dwell on the past – we look ahead to next Saturday against Leicester City now.” – I’m sure words will have been said in the dressing room and that’s where it should stay.

Some will point to Fulham’s recently promoted squad who may have been seen to have reacted positively to being publicly criticised a few times by their manager Scott Parker this this season. Yet they are still in the relegation zone and struggling to win games just as much as Albion, which suggests there has been little positive effect.

I also doubt if Albion’s young and inexperienced team would have reacted in a positive way to such criticism. Particularly the likes of Aaron Connolly who has recently had to delete his Instagram profile for the second time in quick succession after a torrent of online abuse. Given the amount of criticism some have had to deal with lately, the last thing they need is their coach turning on them too.

Graham Potter has his work cut out to turn around Albion’s season and avoid it from nosediving after a terrible week on the pitch. So the last thing he needs is a demoralised group of players off the back of some unwise and emotive comments that he’s made in the media.

Us supporters will no doubt continue to get into a frenzy about this Albion team, for good and bad, whilst pundit will no doubt continue to wilfully dissect the at times comical aspects of Albion’s performances. But Graham Potter will no doubt continue stay as cool as a cucumber right to the end, and we are all the better for it.