Ahead of the 2023/24 Premier League season, Alex Keble takes an in-depth look at each of the 20 clubs.
The regenerative powers of Brighton continue to astound. There is seemingly no loss too great to overcome, and, remarkably, like the Greek goddess Hydra, the more Brighton are hurt the stronger they get. Cut off one head and two grow back. Lose one top-class player and two more emerge from behind the scenes.
Last season they lost Graham Potter, Enock Mwepu, who was forced to retire due to discovering a hereditary heart condition, Marc Cucurella, Yves Bissouma, and Leandro Trossard. Most clubs would have faded away. The Seagulls rose to their highest-ever league finish and first qualification for European football.
Unearthing talent is Brighton’s specialty and there has arguably been no greater discovery than Roberto De Zerbi, who implemented his tactics on the fly last season and will have been grateful for a full summer preparing for the UEFA Europa League.
That’s why supporters are not worried by another summer of upheaval. Losing Alexis Mac Allister to Liverpool and possibly Moises Caicedo, who has been linked to Chelsea, is par. Predicting decline, or even stasis, hasn’t been wise in the past. It would be foolish to start now.
Performance last season
|EFL Cup||Fourth round|
PL performance last five seasons
How to improve on 2022/23
Improving on a sixth-place finish is going to be exceptionally difficult, although Brighton are likely to be a little more organised this season after a full summer of coaching under De Zerbi, one of the brightest minds in the game.
He will want to improve Brighton’s defensive record. De Zerbi’s high-risk strategy of playing out from the back under pressure and holding an aggressive high line can cause their matches to descend into end-to-end chaos. This explains why Brighton conceded the eighth-most goals (48) in the Premier League since his appointment.
Brighton could also do with working on their home form, which is firmly mid-table. Since De Zerbi’s arrival they have won 27 points from 16 matches at the Amex Stadium, the same amount as Nottingham Forest managed in 15 fixtures.
But we’re being picky, here. What’s really desired this season, for supporters and for neutrals who love watching Brighton play, is more of the same.
Mac Allister started 31 Premier League matches last season and Caicedo started 34. Brighton’s midfield is being reconfigured yet again, but you would not bet against them getting it right, with Borussia Dortmund’s Mahmoud Dahoud arriving to add experience at the base.
Elsewhere, highly rated forward Joao Pedro joined from Watford, having scored or assisted 15 goals in the Championship last season. And there is excitement surrounding centre-back Igor Julio, signed from Fiorentina, and new goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen, who joined from Anderlecht.
De Zerbi is the archetype of a new wave of tacticians merging possession and counter-attacking play, the two contrasting ideas that have defined the Premier League over the past decade.
His Brighton team take huge risks passing out of defence in complex patterns that are drilled into muscle memory on the training field. The intention is to lure the opponent out before dramatically changing tack – bursting into the final third with directness and speed.
That’s how Brighton can average 60.5 per cent possession across the Premier League season, yet still drive into the penalty area as if on the counter-attack, having switched gears once the opposition press has been bypassed.
The style – half-transition, half-possession – is so new to the modern game there isn’t yet a buzzword to describe it. Brighton, arguably the most exciting exponent of it, might end up having a tactic named after them!
Reasons to cheer
Billy Gilmour didn’t get so much game time last year, but has found his feet in pre-season, while teenagers Evan Ferguson, Facundo Buonanotte, and Julio Enciso only popped up towards the end of the 2022/23 campaign. All three are expected to be given more minutes this year as Brighton prepare for their first European adventure.
Reasons to fear
The Thursday-Sunday schedule is often challenging, and Brighton will anticipate taking a slight knock. This may damage their chances of emulating their 2022/23 campaign, especially with clubs such as Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, and Aston Villa all making strides over the summer.
Their biggest threat, however, is more poaching. De Zerbi’s stock is rising fast and Brighton will do well to hang on to him for another 12 months, although history suggests fans have nothing to worry about if he does go. In a puff of smoke they’ll simply conjure up someone even better.
Opening six matches
Brighton enjoy what appears to be a very comfortable August, playing Luton Town (H), Wolverhampton Wanderers (A), and West Ham United (H) in their first three fixtures. They then face Newcastle United (H), Manchester United (A) – over whom they did the double last year - and AFC Bournemouth (A).
Predicted XI v Luton
4-2-3-1: Verbruggen; Gross, Webster, Julio, Estupinan; Dahoud, Gilmour; March, Enciso, Mitoma; Pedro.