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Everton vs Brighton: The Opposition View

We spoke to French football writer and Seagulls fan Jeremy Smith ahead of Saturday’s clash

Everton v Brighton and Hove Albion - Premier League
Everton recorded a 2-0 home win over Brighton last season
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

A return to winning ways will be the aim for Everton when they host Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday.

The Seagulls, 11th after ten games, have won their last three league matches by a 1-0 scoreline, and a fourth consecutive victory would see them leapfrog the Toffees in the Premier League table.

Manager Chris Hughton will celebrate four years in charge at the Amex Stadium in December, in which time he has taken the club from 21st in the Championship to mid-table in the top-flight.

His success has been in no small part down to the goals of veteran Glenn Murray, who netted for the 100th time in Brighton colours in last weekend’s home win against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Prior to Sunday’s match, RBM spoke to Jeremy Smith, Brighton fan and French football writer and podcaster at French Football Weekly, about his side and their chances on Saturday:

RBM: Chris Hughton has clearly done an outstanding job at Brighton, but is not linked with ‘bigger clubs’ as often as Sean Dyche at Burnley or Eddie Howe at Bournemouth, for instance. Why do you think that is?

Jeremy: I think there’s a variety of factors. Age is one of them – Hughton is not far off 60 – so can’t be considered one of the new kids on the block.

I think he is also a bit of a victim of the sensationalism of football right now: he is very uncontroversial, keeps out of trouble, will never say anything out of place – he isn’t going to give the media a juicy story to go big on, so they don’t focus on him and he does his job unnoticed and perhaps without the credit he deserves.

To be fair, he also hasn’t (yet) carried his teams as high in the Premier League as Howe and Dyche, and his teams don’t play the most expansive football either.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League
Chris Hughton has transformed Brighton in his near-four years at the club
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

RBM: Is Hughton capable of managing at a higher level?

Jeremy: Hard to say as some managers’ levels are lower-top-flight and they get found out at the very top (I guess two Everton examples are Mike Walker failing after leaving Norwich City for Everton and David Moyes failing at Man United after Everton).

But Hughton has the temperament, the nous, the experience, the defensive rigour and, in his first full season at Brighton [2015/16], proved that he can manage good attacking football too.

Some think he is perhaps not sufficiently tactically astute, but overall I think he’s a safe pair of hands and could certainly do a good job.

RBM: The core of Brighton’s 2016/17 promotion-winning side remains; eight of the 11 starters against Wolves last week were part of that squad. Which one player has improved the most since the Championship days?

Jeremy: It’s hard to look past Lewis Dunk. We always rated him but obviously you’re never sure how players will deal with the step up, but he has been superb for the last year and his partnership with Shane Duffy has been fantastic.

He’s great in the air, brave and willing to throw himself in front of everything, a threat at set-pieces and has a great long ball on him too. He hugely deserved his recent England call-up and will hopefully win his first cap soon.

RBM: Glenn Murray is the highest-scoring Englishman in the Premier League this season with six goals. Now 35, has an England call-up come too late for him, or would he deserve it?

Jeremy: Based purely on form you could make a case, but I guess Murray is the player equivalent of Hughton – a little too old now, and just not fashionable enough (or not playing for a fashionable enough team) to be considered.

But he’s been brilliant for Brighton – he’s a great pro who looks after himself brilliantly to prolong his career for as long as possible. Although he’s had a love-hate relationship with the fans at times, it’s all love right now.

Southampton FC v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Glenn Murray managed 14 goals last season and has started this campaign in similarly prolific form
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

RBM: More than half of Brighton’s 11 league strikes have come from Murray, meanwhile fellow strikers Florin Andone and Jürgen Locadia, who cost roughly £20 million combined, have just one goal between them. Are Brighton too reliant on Murray?

Jeremy: They shouldn’t be, but yes, they are. In Andone’s defence, he’s been injured for most of the time since he arrived and hasn’t yet played for the first team.

Locadia hasn’t really settled since he arrived in January. He has had injury niggles, he has been played on the wing when he would prefer being played down the middle and he has been kept out by Murray’s form. He looks low on confidence and just needs a goal to get going.

Murray could be helped a little more elsewhere too, as (Pascal Groß last season aside) the rest of the team should be weighing in a lot more than they are (Duffy is our second-highest scorer with two).

RBM: What do you think is the best Brighton can realistically achieve this season?

Jeremy: The target is still simply to stay up. But we are looking more confident than last season (when at times it looked like we didn’t believe we deserved to be there), we’ve had a year’s experience at the top level, we have a stronger, deeper squad – and right now we’re even getting results when not playing well.

There’s no reason why we can’t aim for proper mid-table.

RBM: How do you expect Brighton to set up on Saturday?

Jeremy: The same way we always do under Hughton – in a 4-4-2, or 4-4-1-1. The full backs may change at times but Matty Ryan, Dunk and Duffy are the rocks at the back.

We’ll have two of our choice of wingers on the flanks and then, if like recent matches, Solly March behind Murray, dropping back to the midfield when needed.

Personally I’d be happy with the same formation but with Anthony Knockaert on the wing and Ali Jahanbakhsh behind Murray, for a little more attacking intent.

Newcastle United v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Dunk and Duffy both recently signed five-year deals at Brighton
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

RBM: Murray aside, who else do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Jeremy: Jahanbakhsh has made a solid enough start but hasn’t yet exploded into life – maybe this weekend will be his moment.

Perhaps more likely is José Izquierdo. He started the season late but is now just getting into his stride on the left wing – and came close to punishing Wolves on the break a couple of times last weekend. He may be the key man in helping Brighton counter this weekend.

RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s game?

Jeremy: Despite our win at Newcastle two weeks back, we’re still struggling a little away from the Amex and it was our first away win in almost a year. But we gave a good account of ourselves at Liverpool and Manchester City, only losing 1-0 and 2-0 respectively, and are hard to break down at the moment.

I think we’ll come up a little bit short but we won’t make it easy for you – I’m predicting 2-1 to Everton.

Our thanks to Jeremy for his time.