Premier League

Big problems as Seagulls forced to rely on their wings

 • by Mark Thompson
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It is apt for a team nicknamed the Seagulls to be heavily based on wing-play.

With question marks still hanging over Pascal Groß’s fitness after an injury sustained in September, Brighton’s two biggest ways of getting the ball up the pitch have been their wingers: Solly March and Anthony Knockaert.

They’re each involved in just over nine passes that go towards goal in the final third per 90 minutes, whether receiving or making them.

No other Brighton regular this season is above them and the next nearest is Glenn Murray with 7.5 per 90.

Where’s Glenn?

The pair of wingers actually find each other in the box more often – five times so far this season – than they find Murray (four), and you can see that they do have a bit of a presence in-field.

Predominantly, though, the forward passes they receive are long balls down the flanks.

The fact that Knockaert and March have found Murray so infrequently in the box is also highlighted in the fact the striker has only taken ten open-play shots this season; fewer than Knockaert, who’s on 12.

The average quality of Murray’s shots is currently the best in the league, but Brighton could do with creating these chances more often. But creating – with so much emphasis on the play down the flanks and missing Groß in midfield – is something of a problem for the Seagulls.

Three goals from the penalty spot, helping Chris Hughton’s side to eight points from eight games, has helped cover up significant cracks.

Of concern will be that only 38 per cent of their sequences of possession end up in the final third, the lowest rate in the league by several percentage points. They also have the second-lowest expected goals from open-play too, ahead of only lowly Huddersfield Town.

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Knockaert and March aren’t exactly being freed from the shackles of defensive duties to spend their time attacking at will, either. March is making 2.67 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes and Knockaert 3.57, both fairly significant rates for players in their position.

Often, the pair can be seen tracking opponent full-backs, and almost retreating into wing-back positions themselves when their team doesn’t have the ball.

Considering that this is where most of Brighton’s attacking threat comes from, this is either a sign that they need to be freed up more or a sign that the rest of the team isn’t defensively sound enough to cope without their hard work.

A silver lining in view?

In fairness to Brighton, they’ve had one of – if not the – most difficult run of games to start their season.

They’ve already faced Liverpool, both Manchester clubs, Tottenham Hotspur, and a strong Watford side on the opening day of the season.

To have come through all of that more or less intact bodes well for the rest of the campaign, and their run of games over the next two months is an awful lot nicer.

Brighton's next eight games

Opponent (Home/Away)
Newcastle (A)
Wolves (H)
Everton (A)
Cardiff (A)
Leicester (H)
Huddersfield (A)
Crystal Palace (H)
Burnley (A)

But if an opposing side wants to stop Brighton, then the tactic is to force their wingers to defend and then deal with them when they have the ball.

But, with Groß on the return, the Seagulls might have more feathers to their bow in the coming weeks.

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