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Everton at Brighton: The Opposition View

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We spoke to French football writer and Seagulls fan Jeremy Smith ahead of Monday’s clash at the Amex Stadium

Everton v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Everton beat Brighton 4-2 at Goodison Park in October’s reverse fixture
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Everton will be after their first Premier League win in four games when they travel to lowly Brighton & Hove Albion on Monday.

The Blues have never won at the Amex Stadium, though, a ground they’ve drawn one and lost the other two of their three visits to.

But they may draw inspiration from October’s reverse fixture, when they beat the Seagulls 4-2 to make it four league wins out of four at the start of the season.

Graham Potter’s side are edging towards safety, sitting 16th but six points clear of the drop zone with a vastly superior goal difference to 18th-placed Fulham.

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

RBM: Firstly, the general consensus seems to be that Brighton have played well for much of this season, despite being 16th. Are they in a false position?

Jeremy: I suppose it depends what you mean by false. We’re in the position that we deserve to be in based on the points we’ve got. But there is no doubt that we’ve played some brilliant football, had a hell of a lot of bad luck, lots of injuries, some disgraceful refereeing calls and - as all the stats show - everything suggests we should be higher.

It’s really frustrating that, with the quality of our football, we’re more or less in the same position as last year. So in that sense yes, it does feel like a false position. But unfortunately the table isn’t based on xG, but on goals actually scored and conceded.

Manchester United v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Brighton lost 2-1 at Manchester United last weekend
Photo by Phil Noble - Pool/Getty Images

RBM: Brighton haven’t dropped into the bottom three all season, but equally haven’t been higher than 15th since October. Has your faith in Graham Potter waned at all this year?

Jeremy: I can only speak for myself as I know a big minority of fans feel differently, but no, my faith hasn’t waned at all. Basically for the reasons above.

Our football has improved since last year, players are improving individually, more youngsters are coming through and I still think we’re definitely headed in the right direction under Potter.

The problem, as everyone knows, is converting the crazily high number of chances we’re creating into goals. But the main thing is that we’re still creating them. Unfortunately there aren’t that many 15-20-goal-a-season strikers around - certainly not many that Brighton could afford anyway.

RBM: It’s six months since Everton and Brighton last met. Have Brighton changed much as a team since then?

Jeremy: In terms of personnel we’ve changed a little, partly because of one major change - Robert Sanchez replacing Mat Ryan as No. 1 goalkeeper - and partly because of injuries - Tariq Lamptey and Solly March are out for the season, Adam Webster has been out a while and may not be fit to start. Aaron Connolly is also only just returning from injury, so there’ll be changes there.

The other big change is that, in our first match, we lost it with terrible set-piece defending. That aspect has improved as what was then a new three-man defence has become used to playing together. Famous last words but hopefully we won’t give away such easy goals.

Also - last time we played you we’d just been robbed by terrible refereeing against Man Utd. Well, last week we were robbed by terrible refereeing against Man Utd - so things haven’t changed much in that sense either!

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Yves Bissouma scored for Brighton in October’s reverse fixture
Photo by PETER BYRNE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

RBM: Brighton often seem to be accused of not scoring enough, yet seven Premier League sides have netted fewer than their 33 this term. Is that criticism slightly harsh?

Jeremy: Yes and no. It is a myth that we’re not scoring goals - we are, and we’re sharing them around pretty well too.

But the issue is chances converted. Considering how much we create, we’re not scoring anywhere near enough, and it’s really hurting us. Hitting the woodwork five times against Utd, missing two penalties in one match at West Brom - there are too many cases of us losing matches we clearly deserved to win on the balance of play, because of poor/unlucky finishing.

RBM: It was surprising to see Potter drop goalkeeper Mat Ryan for youngster Robert Sanchez earlier this season. Any idea what went on with Ryan there? And how has Sanchez done since replacing him?

Jeremy: Nothing has ever been confirmed but there were rumours that Ryan was the other player involved in a changing room fight with Neal Maupay, and that the defence had simply lost confidence in him. Certainly, his form had dropped alarmingly this season - not making all his regulation saves and certainly not making any extra ones.

It was pretty ruthless and a very brave call from Potter but so far it has worked really well. Sanchez has immediately looked more commanding, relaxed and reassuring and I think that has rubbed off on the defence, which has improved, too. The fact that he has already received a call-up to the Spain squad says it all.

Manchester United v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Sanchez received his first Spain call-up in the last international break
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

RBM: Brighton have only won two of 15 home league games this season, but their Amex form even pre-Covid was not great. Other than absence of fans, can you put your finger on why else they’ve struggled on their own turf?

Jeremy: The only criticism I have of Potter is that perhaps we are a little too concerned with keeping possession.

A lot of our best results this season have been those very rare matches where the opposition has had more possession, and although we are clearly a decent side at keeping the ball, I think fast transitions and counter-attacking also fit into a lot of our players’ skill-sets.

The mindset for most clubs still seems to be keep possession at home, sit back and break away. So maybe that explains it and is something for Potter to think about - at least until we find that clinical edge to turn possession into goals.

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

Jeremy: As long as we can find enough defenders, I would expect a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2.

Recently, we’ve been having to improvise with Pascal Gross and Jakub Moder as wing-backs, which are very much not their main positions, but it hasn’t worked out too badly, especially with Potter’s latest innovation of Maupay and Danny Welbeck pushing wide and Leandro Trossard coming through the middle working well.

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Welbeck scored for Brighton against old club Man Utd last week
Photo by PHIL NOBLE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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

Jeremy: You won’t like this, but Adam Lallana really has been a class above this season.

His intelligence and leadership have been great when he has been fit and his probing from midfield could unlock your defence and provide our attack with the (hundreds of) chances they need.

Trossard’s form seems to blow very hot and cold but he’s in a good run of form at the moment and could be very dangerous if he’s in the mood.

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

Jeremy: Generally in the Premier League, we each seem to win our home matches against each other. And I’m a little concerned because this year it has been our away form that has been so much better, so arguably you should start as comfortable favourites.

The fact that Fulham lost on Friday evening should help us relax a little, but I expect the usual - we’ll dominate the match but miss chances, give away a silly goal and we’ll draw it 1-1.

Our thanks to Jeremy for his time.