Everton made it out of Manchester with a point on the weekend, but there is no rest as Brighton & Hove Albion come calling after their tight loss to league-leading Arsenal. Top ten side Brighton wants to get back on track, while the Toffees under Frank Lampard are looking to remain on the track which began during the 1-1 Manchester City draw.
RBM: First off, Brighton have been really impressive this season—whoever the boss seems to be—and they remain at the top half of the table, even after the tough match versus Arsenal; what are the feelings around supporters, the training ground, the side, and the AmEx?
Generally, things remain positive. Last season we broke all our top-flight records while developing players brilliantly, to our benefit on the pitch and in the transfer market. This season began even more strongly, but then we had the big blow of Chelsea pillaging us for our player of the year, our coach, our whole coaching staff, and our head of recruitment (as well as Newcastle taking our technical director).
I guess it’s been a harsh reminder that even though we’re in the same league, certain clubs are basically playing a different sport; we can’t compete in any way off the pitch. All we can do is keep doing what we’re doing well in terms of talent-spotting, recruitment, a brilliant training ground set-up and stadium, good PR (we even have a World Cup winner now!), and of course, style of play.
Hopefully we can achieve our aim of consistent top-10 finishes with maybe a bonus decent cup run every now and then. Although we’ve had a couple of blips, the fact that we’re still maintaining good standards despite losing so many important people shows that we’re still doing a lot right in the background in terms of future planning.
RBM: What has gone so right for this club so far—whether bossed by Graham Potter or Roberto De Zerbi—and how can they manage to keep it going across the rest of the campaign?
As mentioned above, it’s the way the club is generally run which is helping us continue to do well on the pitch. Players signed some time ago, such as Sanchez, Caicedo, and Mac Allister, are now showing the talent that our scouts spotted a while back, meaning that losing the likes of Bissouma is not such a big blow.
We all knew Potter would leave at some point too, even if we didn’t think it would be early-mid-season, but we probably got the best possible replacement in terms of maintaining standards of quality of play and improvement of young players.
RBM: What are the differences between a Graham Potter Brighton side and a Roberto De Zerbi Brighton side?
We’re not seeing a huge difference yet, although Potter could be a bit more pragmatic in terms of occasionally shutting up shop and even going for the long ball up to Welbeck. De Zerbi is more likely to play a back four and is more about passing and playing the ball out from the back, drawing the opposition in, and then attempting to punish them. It means more chances for a mistake at the back end and more goals conceded, but also means more goals scored.
It has made for very entertaining football, even if there have been some frustrating results. The Arsenal match was a good example - we conceded four at home, it could have been more, but we also outplayed them at times and could have scored a few more ourselves.
RBM: What does the team do well, and what does the side struggle with?
The build-up play is amongst the strongest in the Premier League, and, in Dunk and Webster (when fit), I think we have the most under-rated centre-back pairing in the league too. With the added trickery of the likes of Mitoma and Enciso, and the versatility and increased consistency of Trossard, we can be a match for anyone on our day.
But, our main issue probably still remains the lack of a reliable goalscorer. Trossard has a good record this season but is hardly a no.9; Welbeck is playing very well but has never been prolific, and Undav hasn’t looked up to it. Ferguson is our next big hope, and hopefully his first Premier League goal vs. Arsenal will give him something to build on. That lack of a 12-15 goal striker could be the difference between another positive mid-table finish and a genuine chance at a European competition.
RBM: What are the ambitions, expectations, and objectives for this team for the rest of the season?
Our stated ambition remains to be a consistent top 10 club and, particularly after the disruption of losing all our coaching staff, this has to still be the case this season, despite the strong start. In my opinion, in most seasons, there is very little to separate 7th from 17th place and the odd result here or there can make a huge difference. So building on and improving on last year’s 9th place would be superb. But comfortably mid-table with a nice Cup run would be positive too. But we stuffed up against Charlton in the League Cup after beating Arsenal away; and have a tough FA Cup draw at Middlesbrough.
RBM: Might Brighton be active in the upcoming winter transfer window? If so, how might they address any deficiencies within the squad?
Recent seasons suggest we’re more likely to bring in a 17-year-old South American who’ll go straight into the U23s, and we’ll only see the benefits of in a couple of years’ time. We may go for a midfielder, with Mwepu forced to retire, Mac Allister maybe due a bit of decompression after the World Cup, and with a mind to the fact that he and Caicedo will surely leave in the summer, an innovation or two would be positive.
We may look for some kind of bargain upfront, but Bloom and Barber aren’t usually interested in paying the premiums that come with January purchases for the first team.
RBM: How do you expect Brighton to set up against the Toffees on Tuesday, and who do you think might cause the most issues?
A lot depends on who is available - against Arsenal, we were missing two centre-backs, two central midfielders, and a striker. Meanwhile, Adam Lallana is likely to injure himself in the warm-up even if he is fit enough to make the matchday squad! But, with this all said, I expect a 4-2-3-1 formation and, in terms of who may cause problems, I’d say probably Mitoma. He looks to have kept up his great form from before and during the World Cup, and is playing really well under De Zerbi.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Tuesday’s match?
Assuming that Brighton can field close to their full-strength team they’ll certainly give you a tough match. We’ve come out the right side of a couple of 3-2s against you recently, and with De Zerbi around you’d never bet against another high scorer. Playing away suits Brighton’s style, but I’m going for a 2-2 draw this time.
Our thanks to Jeremy for his time.