Brighton revolution proving a struggle for manager Graham Potter

Manager has reinvented Seagulls into a young, possession-based outfit but the team has won once this season

File photo dated 07-03-2020 of Brighton and Hove Albion manager Graham Potter. PA Photo. Issue date: Thursday November 5, 2020. Brighton boss Graham Potter insists Friday’s clash with Burnley is not a desperate scrap between two struggling sides. See PA story SOCCER Brighton. Photo credit should read Nick Potts/PA Wire.
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Graham Potter is the softly-spoken, mild-mannered, eminently reasonable revolutionary, the manager who has brought radical change while maintaining the manner of an earnest PE teacher. And yet one thing has not altered: Brighton and Hove Albion remain rooted in the lower third of the table.

Potter has reinvented Brighton. Chris Hughton's ball-shy team have been transformed. Brighton had the fourth least possession in the Premier League in 2018-19. They had the seventh most last season and they are sixth in the charts now. Adam Webster has played the fourth most passes in the Premier League.

Brighton have the second lowest average age this season and seven of their last starting 11 never played a league game under Hughton.

And yet Brighton were the last team in all four divisions to win a game in 2020. They have a have a solitary victory this season. They go to Aston Villa on Saturday in 16th. Is Potter the ineffective revolutionary? The style is dramatically different but the circumstances are similar.

In Potter’s defence, change does not always come quickly. Brighton are better at the process, but the outcome remains the same.

Arguably, they have improved at much bar the one thing that matters most: winning games. They have more goals than Manchester City and Arsenal, with a better expected goals tally than either, plus fourth-place Southampton.

Most remarkably, they have the lowest expected goals against in the division, which suggests that, in some respects, they are England’s best defensive team.

The fact that only four teams have conceded more actual goals explains why goalkeeper Mat Ryan was dropped. Perhaps the numbers are deceptive. They have conceded thunderbolts, to Chelsea’s Reece James, own goals, courtesy of Lewis Dunk, and a series of penalties.

Lies, damned lies and statistics? Maybe. A small sample size? Definitely. But Brighton have only won 10 of 46 top-flight games under Potter.


Player ratings from Brighton's only win this season – 3-0 at Newcastle


This season's sole triumph, at Newcastle, was emphatic and excellent, but they have struggled to convert promising positions into points.

They impressed against Manchester United but lost. They allowed Crystal Palace a lone shot but drew 1-1. But an inability to beat West Bromwich Albion and Burnley at home feels telling: Brighton have won too few of the winnable games. Last season, they won only three of nine home games against bottom-half finishers.

It reflects on a lack of a clinical streak. Brighton are wasteful at times; Neal Maupay is the only remotely prolific player in Potter’s reign and even he can be profligate.

Perhaps it reflects on Albion’s past poor spending on attackers like Jurgen Locadia, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Florin Andone and Jose Izquierdo, though if none seemed to suit Hughton, they have delivered still less for Potter.

But everyone else who had the majority of the ball last season scored over 50 goals; Brighton got under 40. Passing has not had enough of an end product.

The sense is that by introducing the rampaging Tariq Lamptey and the assured Ben White, by importing a technician like Adam Lallana, promoting another in Alexis Mac Allister and by prioritising passers over more functional figures such as the departed Dale Stephens and Shane Duffy, Potter has raised Brighton’s ceiling.

They feel a potential top-10 team while sitting in the bottom five. They have more ideas; too many for their own good at times. Potter has made some influential substitutions but there is a question if some of his mid-match tactical switches are agile alterations to correct initial errors that seemed the result of overthinking.

And there is an ongoing debate about progressiveness and pragmatism. Albion have more futuristic plans, but if that involves a detour to the Championship, it will rank as the wrong sort of revolution.