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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

Brighton and Hove Albion v Everton FC - Premier League
Brighton won the reverse fixture 3-2 in October
Photo by Tony McArdle - Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images

Everton will attempt to start making amends for losing to a scratch Liverpool side in the FA Cup when they host Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League on Saturday.

The Blues have little else to play for than a strong league finish this season now, having been knocked out of both domestic cup competitions in the last month.

They welcome a Brighton side who, in Graham Potter’s first season as manager, have won admirers for the way they have improved their style of play, and who sit 14th.

The Seagulls won the reverse fixture 3-2 in October after a dubious VAR-awarded penalty to equalise was followed by a 94th-minute own goal from Lucas Digne.

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

RBM: Firstly, what is the general consensus among Brighton fans about the job Graham Potter has done in the first half of his first season as manager?

Jeremy: Generally, everyone is very happy with how the first half of the season has gone. Although we ended it with fewer points and closer to the relegation zone than the same time last season, people are feeling a lot more positive about the quality of the team and the type of football we’re playing.

It is more adventurous, more possession-based, more ‘total football’-like with defenders given licence to express themselves and attackers playing as first defenders. There is occasional impatience among some fans that some of the possession is aimless and that defenders learning to pass it out can cause problems at the back.

We need to be more clinical with our finishing too. But this is a work in progress and the difference compared to last year in the style of football and in the positive attitude - actually looking to go out and win every match - is immense.

Brighton and Hove Albion v Sheffield Wednesday - FA Cup Third Round
Graham Potter took over from Chris Hughton as Brighton boss in May
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

RBM: Brighton clearly have great faith in Potter, having handed him a fresh six-year contract into November, only six months into his initial four-year deal. Were you surprised by this at all?

Jeremy: I was surprised by the extension being offered so early on - considering our position at the time it seemed a strange call. But the performances at that point were far better than our results suggested and his attitude on and off the pitch has won over most of the club very quickly.

I think there’s an element of showing faith in him and his managerial team’s ability to lay down foundations for greater success in the years to come. Also - although it’s been denied - I think there may also have been the added motivation of the likelihood that other clubs were going to be looking for new coaches soon (Arsenal, Everton, West Ham) and it was important to put off anyone tempted to test Brighton’s or Potter’s resolve.

RBM: Which players do you think have benefitted most from Potter’s style of play and management?

Jeremy: A few possible answers here. Dan Burn never looked likely to get into a Chris Hughton first team at centre-back ahead of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy. Not only had he been an ever-present this season until he broke his clavicle vs Chelsea - but it was in a marauding left-back role, where he has been a bizarre-looking revelation.

Dunk, too has been able to express his excellent ball-playing ability as well as his defensive prowess. Similarly, Dale Stephens - who was the target of a lot of the fans’ ire last year for playing too defensively - has this year been the fulcrum of Potter’s team and the starting point of most attacks. In a way he is the player who best represents Brighton’s change in style.

The other two players worth a mention are Aaron Connolly and Steven Alzate. Both members of Brighton’s excellent youth team of the last couple of years, they always seemed unlikely to be given a chance under Hughton. But Potter has put his trust in them and both have added a lot to the team, Connolly with his attacking intent and Alzate with his versatility.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh probably deserves a mention too. He was given chances under Hughton but looked extremely poor, had no goals or assists in 18 months and barely had any minutes under Potter. Suddenly in the last two matches he has two goals, including a brilliant overhead kick vs Chelsea.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Chelsea FC - Premier League
Jahanbakhsh’s overhead kick secured a late deserved point for Brighton against Chelsea on New Year’s Day
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

RBM: Where should Brighton be looking to strengthen the most in the January transfer market

Jeremy: Both full-back positions still feel a little light and it would be nice to have more strength in depth there. Probably the main need is a target man to help with the scoring responsibility - Glenn Murray is barely getting game time and it’s a lot of pressure to put on two young, relatively inexperienced strikers in Neal Maupay and Connolly.

RBM: A lot of Premier League teams come to Goodison Park and sit behind the ball, soak up pressure and counter at the right moments. Should we expect Brighton to take a more front-foot approach?

Jeremy: Based on the way that Brighton have played until now - including in all our matches away against the ‘top six’ teams - which included in a win at Arsenal, an undeserved defeat at Spurs, a very narrow defeat to Liverpool and even giving Manchester City a good game - we will not sit back, but stick with our style of trying to hog possession, stay on the front foot and build patiently.

As we showed in our late winner against you in our first match, though, we do also have the ability to hit teams on the break, so that is something to be wary of, too.

Everton FC v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Brighton have lost on both visits to Goodison since their promotion in 2017
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

RBM: Which areas of the pitch should Everton look to exploit the most against Brighton?

Jeremy: Much depends on who plays and in which position, but generally the flanks seem to be vulnerable. Bernardo is likely to come in at left-back but is only just back after a long injury and so may not be entirely match-fit or sharp. Right-back will likely be Martin Montoya, who can blow hot and cold, or Alzate, who is still learning the position as it’s not his usual role.

As we rarely play with standard wingers, they don’t always receive a lot of defensive support from those in front of them, and so the wide areas could be exploited. We’ve also been very poor at defending set pieces this season (an issue that Potter had at Swansea too), so I worry about the fact that you have a few players with a good aerial threat.

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

Jeremy: As alluded to above, Potter seems to change formation and personnel from one match to the next, so it’s hard to predict. But I would expect a 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1.

Crystal Palace v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Neal Maupay is Brighton’s top scorer with seven goals to his name
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

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

Jeremy: On recent form and, if we play 4-2-3-1, the man who’ll be in the number ten role - Aaron Mooy.

He has been brilliant in recent weeks, dictating play, finding pockets of space to take possession and spread the ball wide or burst forward - and his goal against Bournemouth would have been raved about had it been scored by one of Match of the Day’s or Sky’s favourites.

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

Jeremy: I’m worried that we’re going to get some kind of karmic comeuppance for that dodgy penalty in the first match. And despite rumours about fights behind the scenes at Finch Farm, I still think you’ll come together at Goodison under Carlo Ancelotti.

I’m optimistic that it will be an open game (possibly not high-quality but all the more exciting for it), but am pessimistic that we’ll get a result. I wouldn’t be surprised if you reverse the score from the first match and win 3-2.

Our thanks to Jeremy for his time.