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Everton at Brighton: The Opposition View

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

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Everton lost this fixture 1-0 last season
Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images

Everton will go in search of an away victory and consecutive league wins for the first time this season at Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday.

The Blues have not won at the Amex Stadium since Brighton’s debut campaign in the Premier League two seasons ago, drawing 1-1 first and then losing 1-0 last term.

But they have cause for optimism on the back of their best performance of the season so far on Saturday, having brushed aside West Ham United 2-0.

As for Brighton, they have made a decent start under new manager Graham Potter, sitting 16th with nine points from as many games, and hammered Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 in their last home game.

Prior to Saturday’s match, we spoke to Jeremy Smith, Brighton fan and French football writer and podcaster at French Football Weekly:

RBM: Firstly, Chris Hughton was sacked after just keeping Brighton up (17th) last season, albeit by adopting a style of play perceived as overly negative. Was the time right to part ways?

Jeremy; Yes, it was. No-one can take away the amazing things he achieved for us, but it really felt like the end of a cycle. At the end of 2018 we were well-placed but 2019 was horrific. Our home form vanished, the football became increasingly negative, Hughton became even more stubborn and there was a growing feeling that he had lost the changing room.

We only stayed up because others were even worse (and had to rely on Crystal Palace, of all teams, beating Cardiff City to help us). It was too risky to allow Hughton to stay in the hope that he could reverse the slide into this season. Leave it a few weeks into this season and it might have been too late.

Brighton and Hove Albion v Manchester City - Premier League - AMEX Stadium
Chris Hughton left Brighton following the end of last season
Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

RBM: In that respect, how much the playing style improved under Graham Potter?

Jeremy: It’s like night and day. Passing, attacking football, constant changes in formation and personnel (whereas under Hughton, you knew exactly who would be playing and where), revelations as defenders show attacking intent (Dan Burn and Adam Webster marauding up the wing, Lewis Dunk with two superb long-range assists). Giving youth more chances. Self-confidence to take on other teams - home and away - rather than hope to somehow sneak a 0-0 or 1-0.

Yes, we’re more open, but we’re also on another planet to last year in terms of possession and chances created. And perhaps most tellingly, our win over Watford on day one was achieved with pretty much the same team as last season, showing that it isn’t just because of new players.

RBM: Brighton are two points worse off after nine games than they were last season. Do you still feel, though, that with Potter, there is greater optimism this time around?

Jeremy: Definitely. For the moment, anyway. The style of football and the fact that we have been the better team in practically every match means we hope that we’ll get the results that our performances deserve in the end.

The concern is the lack of finishing product, the red cards and the late goals conceded. The fact that we totally outplayed Spurs is hopefully a good sign, too, that we may win more points this year from the teams at the top.

Aston Villa v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Graham Potter left Swansea City to take the Brighton job in May
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

RBM: Brighton have already lost three points to stoppage-time goals this season (to Burnley and Aston Villa). Is this an issue of fatigue, or just bad luck?

Jeremy: I think it’s a bit of both and neither. Perhaps also it’s the other side of the coin of our attacking intent - maybe sometimes, we should take a leaf out of Hughton’s book and shut up shop.

In the case of Villa, it was fatigue but not necessarily a fitness problem - more the fact that we played for an hour with ten men (an early red card cost us, just as it did vs Southampton). But even then, we were still the better team, and came close to scoring just before Villa’s winner. So maybe we just need to improve our game management a little.

RBM: Potter has introduced a number of youngsters, namely striker Aaron Connolly (19) and midfielder Steven Alzate (21). What have they added to Brighton’s team so far?

Jeremy: Firstly, they’ve added to Potter’s ethos of playing with enthusiasm, confidence and no fear. They’re also the first of our very talented youth team (which challenged Everton for the title last year) to truly break into the team, which is great to see, and a positive sign of the way the whole club is running.

But most importantly, they’ve added great talent. Alzate is a classy midfielder who can play in a variety of positions. And Connolly is carrying on what he’s been doing for a couple of years now at youth level - showing that he’s a natural born goalscorer. There’s something of Wayne Rooney about him, with a great confidence in his ability which falls just the right side of arrogance. We have very high hopes for him.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Connolly scored twice in Brighton’s 3-0 win over Tottenham on October 5
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

RBM: Potter has also deployed 6ft 7in centre-half Dan Burn as a left-back; I remember watching him play right-back for Fulham on the day they were relegated in 2014 and felt for him, given he looked totally ill-suited to the position. How has he coped playing full-back this time?

Jeremy: He really has been a revelation. He was expected to be fourth-choice centre-back, but has arguably been our player of the season so far, whether playing as one of three centre backs or as a left-wing-back.

OK, he doesn’t look that gainly, but he’s done really well filling in on the flank and his delivery has been better than expected, too.

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

Jeremy: Genuinely an impossible question to answer - which makes such a change from the last two seasons - because Potter chops and changes practically from one week to the next.

Purely because he’s gone with that the last two matches, I’ll go with 4-4-2 (which is actually more of a 4-2-2-2). Although the formation may depend on whether or not Leandro Trossard is fit to start.

Manchester City v Brighton and Hove Albion - Premier League - Etihad Stadium
Trossard (centre) has not played for Brighton since August 31 due to a groin injury
Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

RBM: Which of Brighton’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?

Jeremy: Trossard, Connolly and Neal Maupay are the obvious names but I’ll go with Pascal Gross.

After a brilliant first season, he struggled for fitness and form last season, but looks back to his best this year - he leads the Premier League for chances and big chances created (if you discount Manchester City and Liverpool players). And in a tight game, his set-piece delivery could be crucial.

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

Jeremy: As a natural born pessimist, I’m tempted to say that we’ll maintain our form of outplaying the opposition but dropping points. But I’ll try to be confident and say 2-1 to the Albion.

Our thanks to Jeremy for his time.