Thursday, August 3, 2023

Will The Seagulls Fly Again?

Any concerns about last season’s departure of Manager Graham Potter to Chelsea were quickly dispensed with as Brighton thrived under Roberto De Zerbi while Potter was flaming out in London. Perhaps the greatest win for Brighton in the current transfer window is holding on to the former Sassuolo and Shakhtar Donetsk manager. De Zerbi established himself as a top tier Premier League manager by guiding the Seagulls to Brighton’s first European qualification with a sixth place Premier League finish that puts the club in the Europa League this coming season. Brighton also advanced to the semifinals of the FA Cup before falling in penalties to Manchester United. The job done by De Zerbi at Brighton last season prompted Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola to call the Italian “one of the most influential Premier League managers in the last 20 years.” De Zerbi’s style of play employs a possession-based approach, not unlike Guardiola’s own philosophy, whereby his club provokes pressing by their opponent. One mistake by the opposition and the Seagulls are flying to unoccupied areas of the pitch. Brighton is then clinical in the final third with intricate passes creating premium shot opportunities.

Recreating last year’s success will be more difficult, however. The Seagulls must adjust to the additional rigors of the added European schedule while adjusting to the loss of key players. Player turnover is not unusual for a Brighton club which often uncovers young creative players, many from South America, who then move on, at a tidy profit to the Seagulls, after establishing themselves on the south coast. The funds from their sale then serve to fund the purchases of more future stars. Alexis Mac Allister is one star who has left the flock. The Argentinian made his mark last season in the Premier League while also capturing a World Cup with his country. The midfielder, who scored 10 goals for the Seagulls in the league last season, is now a Liverpool player.

Replenishing the Brighton attack, however, will be a new addition in Brazilian center forward Jao Pedro. The 21-year-old scored 11 goals in the Championship division of English football for Watford last season and is a versatile player with good ball skills who can also play as an attacking midfielder. Box to box midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud is another player added to De Zerbi’s tool kit this summer. A somewhat different profile at 27 years old, Dahoud has not yet achieved the potential predicted for him as a young prospect in the Bundesliga. Brighton will hope De Zerbi’s tutelage can take Dahoud to a different level after some recent struggles at Borussia Dortmund.

Defense could be a worry for Brighton, in part traceable to the strange relationship between Chelsea and the Seagulls. Chelsea not only grabbed Potter last season but also signed fullback Marc Cucarella from the Seagulls. Now Chelsea is in full bore pursuit of Brighton defensive midfielder Moises Caicedo. The 21-year-old Ecuadoran comes off a breakthrough season for the Seagulls and has not been shy in sharing his desire to join the London club. Caicedo expressed those sentiments when accepting an award at a Brighton supporter function just this past week. Brighton is holding out, however, for a stiff transfer fee which would deliver more than a $100 million profit to the club. Caicedo’s departure would create a void in the Brighton defense which has also been weakened by the loss of center back Levi Colwill. Colwill was loaned by Chelsea to the Seagulls last season and Brighton wanted to make the appointment permanent. Chelsea, however, would have none of it and Colwill recently signed a long-term contract to stay with the Blues after assurances that he is key to new manager Mauricio Pochettino’s plans. Brighton has moved to replace Colwill by acquiring Brazilian center back Igor Julio from Fiorentina in Serie A. Chelsea is now reportedly close to signing Brighton goalkeeper Robert Sanchez who lost his starting place in De Zerbi’s lineup to Jason Steele last season.

Returning defenders for Brighton include captain and longtime supporter favorite Lewis Dunk, a center back who has been with the club since 2010. Meanwhile, Caicedo’s Ecuadoran teammate, Pervis Estupian, has established himself as one of the best left backs in the Premier League. Assuming Brighton remains solid in defense, either with Caicedo or a suitable replacement, the Seagulls should continue their ascent. De Zerbi’s attack should be formidable with Pedro and Dahoud joining a solid returning core for Brighton which includes Japanese winger Kaoru Mitoma and youngsters Julio Enciso and Evan Ferguson. Paraguayan midfielder Enciso established himself as a midfield force in the second half of last season at just 19 years old. Enciso’s goal against Manchester City, which secured Brighton’s Europa League qualification, was adjudged by many as the Premier League goal of the season. Irish international Ferguson flashed as an 18-year-old last season for Brighton, striking for 6 goals in 19 appearances.

Look for the Seagulls to get off to a flying start when they are home to Premier League newcomer Luton Town in their August 12th season opener. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave a comment: