In Focus: Why talk of a top-half finish for Brighton is far from Potty
Brighton were often labelled the Premier League’s unluckiest team last season — but this term their fortunes already appear to be improving.
Graham Potter’s men have made the perfect start with victories over Burnley and Watford to join Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham as one of only five sides with a 100% record after two games.
Ahead of their Carabao Cup clash with Championship outfit Cardiff this evening, we explore whether the Seagulls can finally turn promise into end product and push for a top-half finish.
The xG darlings
Football fans with a keen eye for statistics have long been making compelling cases that Brighton are a side performing better than the tables suggest.
In the modern game, use of the Expected Goals (xG) metric has become commonplace — designed to show the value of a team’s total created chances in a match, rather than only the ones they scored.
The concept being that by using xG, number crunchers can determine if teams are scoring and conceding as many goals as they should be.
Last season, no Premier League team underperformed more significantly against their xG totals than Brighton.
Data powerhouses Understat say the Seagulls should have scored 53 goals in their 2020-21 league campaign based on the quality of their chances — a whopping 13 more than their actual total of 40.
Furthermore, xG suggests they should have conceded six less then the 46 that went in at the other end.
In fact, an xG league table from last season placed Potter’s troops all the way up in fifth spot, 11 places higher than their actual finishing position of 16th.
Bad luck or bad finishing?
Those who watched much of Brighton last term will probably not be too surprised by some of those statistics.
Playing an attractive brand of football under their highly-rated coach Potter, the Seagulls are patient in their build-up and boasted an average of 50.7% of possession throughout 2020-21.
Their average shots-per-game total of 12.8 was only bettered by five sides, as was their interceptions average of 11.2 per 90 minutes.
At their best, Brighton play with the tempo of a top-class side and can carve out opening after opening against any stature of opponent.
However, there can be no doubting that the quality of their finishing was what let them down last season.
French forward Neal Maupay, 25, was the worst offender by some distance — his eight top flight strikes last season were six less than he should have notched based on the quality of chances he was presented with.
It also speaks volumes that the only players to grab more than five goals across the 38-game campaign were Maupay and the injury-prone Danny Welbeck.
Addressing the issue
In terms of personnel changes, Brighton have had a low-key summer to date.
Ben White’s move to Arsenal is the obvious exception, though the club did net a whopping £50million for their academy product, while Zambian midfielder Enock Mwepu has arrived from RB Salzburg for £20m.
But generally, Potter has placed an emphasis on keeping his relatively youthful squad together.
That is not to say that there will not be attacking reinforcements before the transfer window has slammed shut next week, however.
Darwin Nunez, a 22-year-old Uruguayan forward, who earned plenty of plaudits at Portuguese giants Benfica last term, has been repeatedly linked with a move to the South Coast.
Recent reports suggest a £25m deal is close to being struck between the two clubs — with the player appearing a perfect fit for Brighton’s style of play.
Notching 14 goals and 12 assists in 39 appearances across all competitions last term, the youngster could be the man to benefit from all of Brighton’s impressive build-up play.
Keeping the faith
Regardless of whether or not Nunez arrives, Brighton’s boss insists he is happy with what he already has at his disposal.
Maupay appears to have left last year’s profligacy behind with two goals in his opening two appearances, while Argentine attacking midfielder Alexis Mac Allister has already matched his 2021-22 tally.
Speaking after the Watford game, Potter said: 'We are benefiting from the fact that we have been together as a group for two years.
“Last year the performances were really good but we didn't get the points.
“Everybody wants to know why that is, but sometimes it is just football.
“We have kept going, kept trying to develop the ideas, and the boys have improved.
“It's a process. You also have to have enough about you as a team to sometimes think, 'It's not quite going how we want it to go at the moment — let's be together, let's see the moment out, let's be hard to beat'.”
Tonight’s Carabao Cup tie at Cardiff looks a tricky test, with the Bluebirds undefeated in five outings in all competitions to date this season.
However, Potter has hinted that he will make changes for the contest in order to keep key men fresh and give fringe players an opportunity to impress.
Also in the short-term, a home clash with Everton on Saturday afternoon offers a genuine opportunity for the Seagulls to head into the first international break with maximum points.
With no top-four opponents in town until late October, Potter will sniff an opportunity for his side to build the early momentum that they have been deprived of in their previous Premier League campaigns.
Providing the final days of the transfer window go to plan and injuries are kind, there is nothing to say that Brighton cannot scale previously uncharted heights in 2021-22.
Perhaps they will finally start to prove the stats boffins right.