Since Graham Potter took charge on the south coast 13 months ago, his appointment has certainly divided opinion. It was a huge shift in style and stability from the safe pair of hands under the experienced and pragmatic Chris Hughton to the progressive, adventurous and more ambitious raison d’etre of the relatively unknown Potter. But has it worked?
“Nice guy” Hughton gets the job done…
Hughton did a superb job at Brighton, taking the upwardly mobile Seagulls from the lower echelons of the second tier into the Premier League and keeping them there, playing largely how we expected, in a traditional (some would say old fashioned) 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1 in a low block with Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy well covered by a rigid midfield and the occasional moments of magic from Glenn Murray and the mercurial Pascal Gross. Brighton hit the magic 40 points in their debut Premier League season but, although Hughton seemed satisfied, his system and setup was only going to get the club so far.
Relegation form of one win in 24 will see any manager in trouble and Hughton was sacked having only stayed up due to the shortcomings of others. Hughton spent money and plenty of it, but the vast majority of his signings—Alireza Jahanbahskh, Florin Andone, Jurgen Locadia, and Bernardo to name but four—proved major disappointments. Poor recruitment, worse results, and a feeling of antipathy—Hughton had reached the end of the road.
The board – Messrs Tony Bloom and Paul Barber, view the journey just as importantly as the destination. Whilst many disagreed with the decision to dispense with a man that had done so much for a club and a city, the men in the corridors of power wholeheartedly believed they had made the right move.
Potter winning admirers but results a priority
In turning to Potter, it was a statement of intent—the Brighton board wanted more than mere survival. They wanted someone more in their own image, someone to take the club forward, someone to remodel and implement a fresh approach and a new impetus.
A cursory glance at the numbers shows the team have fewer points than last season but there seems no need to abandon the creative revolution. Albion have 33 points from as many games in 2019-20, compared to 33 from 29 at the same stage last season. Taking that stat at face value suggests Brighton are no better off under Potter than they were under Hughton. The change is style has won them plaudits and many admirers, but it has not, as yet, made them any more effective.
The numbers prove that Brighton are moving forwards
Potter’s side are vastly different from Hughton’s identikit – eminently more watchable and averaging 55% possession per game compared to 32% under Hughton. They score 1.3 goals per game, up from 0.9 last year. They have more shots on average and are creating more chances. Lack of goals remain an issue, with Potter having brought in Leandro Trossard, Neil Maupay, and Aaron Connolly to support an aging Murray. Murray and Maupay are the epitome of the men that signed them—Murray the wise, experienced head and Maupay the young, emerging talent with the potential to go further—just like his manager.
Last season, Brighton allowed opponents 13 passes before attempting to break out of the low block and win the ball back. This time around, that number is, on average, nine. Goalkeeper Mat Ryan – a Hughton success story – has been playing the ball shorter than any other goalkeeper in the division – showing Potter’s desire to play the ball out from the back. Potter frequently changed formations at Swansea, and it’s no different at Brighton with the man himself constantly evolving from his predecessor’s tried and tested 4-4-2 to a flexible 3-5-1-1 and just about everything in between, often choosing completely different shapes for a defending and attacking framework, and regularly altering those shapes over the course of a game.
As Forrest Gump once said, life is like a box of chocolates, and its the same with Brighton. You never know what you’re getting to get.
That, straight away, makes Potter a more fashionable upgrade than Hughton. Potter, for his part, is pragmatic as well as philosophical. He appreciates the need to blend attractive football with successful football, and knows the promise of his first year in charge will count for nothing if Brighton end up in the dreaded drop zone come the end of the protracted season.
As the cynics will say: what good is style if there’s no substance?
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