Brighton & Hove Albion’s return to the Premier League last season was filled with feel-good and hope that the Seagulls could hang around just long enough to become the new plucky club on the south coast. They survived — mission accomplished. Chris Hughton’s men battled to the end and secured 15th on 40 points.
Now, with a proper season in the Premier League under their belt, the question turned to how can they become a fixture in the league, establish their pluckiness and make upgrades along the way.
The first test against Watford in the season-opener at Vicarage Road didn’t go well. Brighton were beaten, handly, 2-0. The more than $70 million Brighton spent in the transfer window were featured slightly with Bernardo playing the full 90 and Yves Bissouma and Alireza Jahanbakhsh coming on as second-half subs with only Bissouma showing any sign of a pulse.
So, what does Hughton do Sunday? He rolls out the same starting 11 that got smacked by Watford and this happened:
Glenn Murray, 25th Minute, 1-0
Don’t let this beautiful flick by Glenn Murray mask the fact that a 34-year-old journeyman striker out-muscles 24-year-old Victor Lindelöf. The Brighton talisman from last season has this perfect old man game. You see it in basketball with the aging wingers raining corner 3s as they shimmy away from opponents with a rotation of three or four moves they’ve collected over years of experience. Murray does the same here and finishes like he’s never letting his striker spot go.
Shane Duffy, 27th Minute, 2-0
Brighton’s second goal comes quickly after two Manchester miscues. New midfielder Fred mishandles a ball in the middle of the field and it gets poked down to the United end. Panicked center back Eric Bailley scrambles and plays the ball out for a corner leaving goalkeeper David De Gea in complete astonishment.
Those back-to-back mental errors lead to Pascal Groß swinging in a corner to the far post. Paul Pogba is there to interfere with the pass but the ball bounces its way back to Groß who fires it back in the box. The ball deflects of Anthony Knockaert to a waiting Shane Duffy. The defender is unmarked and slots it home. Pandemonium ensues inside the Amex and Brighton are up 2-0 because of two mental lapses and a bit of bad luck.
Romelu Lukaku, 34th Minute, 2-1
Ashley Young’s corner finds Luke Shaw outside the far side of the box. He volleys the ball straight into the ground and it pops up to Romelu Lukaku who easily heads it home. I’m convinced there’s nothing Brighton can do here to prevent it. Lukaku’s height is too much to overcome. However, Davy Pröpper almost blocked Shaw from swinging it into the box but he was a moment too late.
Pascal Groß, 44th Minute, 3-1
Another midfield breakdown by Fred sparks another Brighton attack when the new guy misplays the ball and it bounces to a surging Dale Stephens. The Brighton midfielder accelerates straight toward goal where Andreas Pereira comes to meet him, leaving space behind for Groß to slip in between Lindelöf and Bailley. The latter attempts a last-ditch tackle and brings Groß down for an easy penalty shout. Groß sends the PK right down the middle. 3-1. Dare. To. Dream, Seagulls.
Paul Pogba, 90th Minute (+4), 3-2
Shane Duffy “brings down” Marouane Fellaini near the edge of the box and Pogba scores. But enjoy this .gif that pretty much sums up the night for Manchester and Fred, specifically.
So, What Can the Stats Tell Us?
Brighton had six shots on goal against Watford last week resulting in 0.47 expected goals. Against Manchester United, Brighton put another six shots on goal, but their xG jumped to 1.57.
What’s curious, however, is that one of those shots against United was from the penalty spot which is an automatic 0.76 boost to xG. So, if we take that shot away, Brighton’s xG/shot was 0.162. Against Watford, their xG/shot 0.078. Brighton was simply getting better chances near De Gea.
Brighton also didn’t put a shot on net against Watford. Against United? Three. They all went in. Stats are funny like that.
What About the Eyeball Test?
Glenn Murray’s goal stands above any other accomplishment on the pitch for Brighton-Manchester. His trivela flick-on was pure ecstasy. But there was a bigger issue here for Manchester United than being out-classed by a player past his prime.
The problem started with Pogba kicking a lazy pass in the midfield on Manchester’s side of the pitch. It was an obvious brain fart on the part of Pogba, who I thought actually played a pretty good game despite the stick he’s getting from United fans.
The next issue comes when Murray shakes off Lindelöf to beat him to a low cross. This should never happen to a United center back, and could be why Jose Mourinho was so vocal about bringing in a veteran defender in the transfer window. Lindelöf is too weak in that position.
Weaknesses on the defensive half of United’s spine is what stood out through this match. Bailley, Lindelöf, Pogba, Fred, and Pereira all seemed to be a step slower than a gunning Brighton, who pressed high once they were dispossessed in the United half of the field.
Pogba’s inaccurate pass and Fred’s two blunders that led to goals all occurred in the middle of the pitch just before the halfway line. This put the defense in a poor position and Bailley and Lindelöf didn’t stand a chance.
What Does This Mean for Brighton?
It’s still too early to tell who Brighton are at the moment, especially when they haven’t really tested their new signees. I still don’t expect Murray to bag double-digit goals this season. I still don’t expect Stephens and Pröpper to start in the midfield come November. There are too many question marks.
All you can really say is it was a much-needed three points after getting thrashed by Watford, who are currently fourth in the table, on opening day.
Of course, maybe Manchester United’s bogey team is Brighton. Hughton and the Seagulls found another solution for the Red Devils this week. We’ll see if they can build on this momentum and give Liverpool a run for their money on Saturday.