There are very few clubs that rival fans will appreciate and admire. One of those rare examples in the Premier League is Brighton & Hove Albion.
Their structured business model, data-driven scouting department, and efficient talent development process are amongst European football’s most well-renowned and respected.
Brighton has become so good at what they do that wealthier teams are looting their on-field talent and off-field personnel who perform behind the scenes to improve their operations.
To name a few examples, last year, Newcastle United appointed Brighton’s former Technical Director, Dan Ashworth, and Chelsea nicked Paul Winstanley, Brighton’s former Head of Recruitment.
The heavy churn of personnel last season drew concerns about the sustainability of their model.
However, they continued to deliver and created club history as they finished 6th in the Premier League and qualified for the Europa League for the first time.
They have been riding a wave of momentum for two seasons in a row, but a recent stumble in results has raised questions of whether Brighton has finally reached their breaking point where it all falls crumbling down.
Dip in performances
Analyzing the 5-game rolling average data for expected goals scored and conceded is a handy indicator for discerning a team’s performance, as it helps us understand whether a side is creating more chances than conceded or the opposite – with the former being a positive representation of performance.
The reason for using expected figures is that it provides a better depiction of a team’s performance and avoids irregularities that would arise if we were to use goals scored and conceded.
Moreover, goals do not quantify the chances a team generates or concedes, as they only represent the converted figure.
The chart below illustrates the 5-game rolling average trend of expected goal-scoring chances generated (xG – expected goals) and conceded (xGA – expected goals against) by Brighton since 2021-22.
We can notice an evident dip in performance for the past few games, with the xG and xGA trend lines converging. Specifically, Brighton’s chance creation output (xG) is in a downtrend with a consequential increase in the chance conceded (xGA) data since last season.
So, is there anything wrong with Roberto De Zerbi’s team?
Vulnerability to counter-attacks
A noticeable weakness in Brighton’s game is their susceptibility to counter-attacks, costing them goals and points.
This season, they have already conceded more goals on the counter than any other team in the Premier League. Furthermore, this issue was pertinent last season when they ranked third in the same metric.
Brighton plays a high defensive line when they are in settled possession. However, the cause for the issue is the ineffectiveness of their high press once they lose the ball rather than the high defensive line itself.
The chart below illustrates this by comparing the PPDA (passes per defensive action) with the high turnover regains.
Brighton’s positioning on the data visualization tells us two things:
They are among the most aggressive pressing teams in the Premier League, ranking third in the Premier League for the lowest PPDA – which indicates a high press.
But Brighton’s performance in high possession turnovers is lower than their peers – indicating a low success rate of their press.
And this could be contributing to the high volume of counter-attacks they are suffering, which justifies the uptick in chances conceded.
Offensive productivity remains
Looking at the raw numbers without context is an unhealthy habit, as it can be misleading. When we looked at the xG and xGA trends, it did indicate a deflation in offensive produce.
However, on further inspection, the downtrend is only relative to the abnormally impressive figures they delivered last season.
When looking at the entire chart, we can observe that Brighton is still enjoying some of their best-attacking output.
Furthermore, compared to their competitors in the Premier League, Brighton ranks first for chance creation and conversion.
Therefore, Brighton may not be at the peak of their offensive powers, but they are generating more than enough chances to be the most threatening team in the league.
Will the high personnel turnover affect them?
Premier League fans are weary of Brighton’s heavy personnel turnover due to the recent collapse of a club that similarly had an established innovative business model, recruitment structure, and youth development network, which now finds itself in the second tier of English football.
That club is Southampton, who could not endure the consistent loss of quality players and managers, along with other contributors such as the change in ownership, which led to their relegation from the Premier League.
Brighton has also experienced the same for the past few seasons, as they have lost players like Yves Bissouma, Moises Caicedo, Alexis Mac Allister, and Marc Cucurella, along with their former manager, Graham Potter.
Nevertheless, during the opening stages of the ongoing campaign, their recruits seem to be suitable successors.
Furthermore, high-potential talents such as Kaoru Mitoma, Evan Ferguson, and Julio Enciso, to name a few, remain at the club and will be crucial to their performance this campaign. Even Brighton’s talented head coach, Roberto De Zerbi, has stuck with the club and seems keen to take them to new heights.
Brighton would be already preparing for their departure in a season or two – meaning that the concern will always remain that a future signing, who might meet all their recruitment requirements, may not pay off due to the innumerable factors that can cause the failure of the signing.
Therefore, to the Brighton fans’ dismay, this is simply an inherent risk of their business model, for which there is no cure unless they attempt to transition to a big player of the Premier League – this brings its complexities, causing different types of risks.
Brighton has nothing to worry about in the short term as their squad is well-equipped with talent, and their manager is more than capable of fulfilling their ambitions.
As mentioned throughout the article, the long-term concerns are clear, but doesn’t every club face unique challenges that can never be entirely avoided or solved?
Therefore, Brighton’s problems are nothing to worry about as long as the club structure remains, and they accept the occasional turbulence they might experience if the turnover rate persists.
But with Tony Bloom’s established multi-club system and the effectiveness of their recruitment model, they seem to be in a better position than Southampton and the other innovative clubs that have previously achieved beyond their financial means and let it catch up to them.
Football clubs will experience periods of highs and lows as it is simply the nature of sport.
If one remains concerned about the future, they will not enjoy the present. And when the present slips away to become the past, they will regret not relishing the good times.
To conclude, the message is straightforward to all Brighton supporters – enjoy the golden era your club is in, get lost in it, and confront the future when it arrives, for the memories you build now will be greater than any issues that arise down the road.