What’s going wrong at Brighton this season? Is it just a blip?

03.05.2024 14:01:40 Adam England
Amex Stadium, home of Brighton & Hove Albion.
  • Brighton & Hove Albion have had a disappointing season by their recent usual high standards.
  • They sit in the bottom half of the table after successive ninth and sixth-place finishes.
  • They sold Alexis Mac Allister and Moisés Caicedo in high-profile transfers last summer.
  • There’s been speculation over the future of manager Roberto De Zerbi.


For a few years, Brighton & Hove Albion was the club everybody wanted to emulate. Historically not one of England’s biggest, they punched above their weight in the top half of the Premier League, selling their brightest assets and replacing them with South American teenagers missed by everyone else. Even when manager Graham Potter was poached by Chelsea, they didn’t falter.

This season, however, Brighton have struggled. At least, by their standards. In recent years, top-half staples like Southampton and Leicester City, arguably Swansea City too, have gradually fallen away, ending up back in the Championship. Brighton are one of the most well-run teams in the UK, or perhaps even the world, and relegation isn’t something that’s likely, but have they peaked?


Two great seasons and one of struggle

The 2021-22 season saw the Seagulls finish 9th. This was their highest top-flight finish ever. The summer before, they sold players like Davy Pröpper, José Izquierdo, and Alireza Jahanbakhsh, first-teamers who hadn’t exactly set the world alight, as well as the highly-rated Ben White, who left for Arsenal. Dan Burn left in January too, for a newly-minted Newcastle United, but the club never faltered.

The following summer, they sold Yves Bissouma and Marc Cucurella. Then, Potter left for Chelsea, being replaced by Roberto De Zerbi, and midfielder Enock Mwepu was forced to retire following the diagnosis of a hereditary heart condition a month later. Even losing Leandro Trossard to Arsenal in January couldn’t stop them from romping to a sixth-place finish and a spot in the Europa League, Brighton’s first-ever time playing in European football.

Last summer saw changes again, with two of Brighton’s brightest talents being sold. Midfielders Alexis Mac Allister and Moisés Caicedo both left, while goalie Robert Sánchez also departed for Chelsea after losing his place as first-choice keeper. James Milner and Mahmoud Dahoud came in on free transfers, while Joäo Pedro arrived from Watford for a club-record fee. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen came in too.

But last summer might have been a couple of sales too far for this Brighton team. With four games left, they sit 12th. A strong finish to the season could see a third successive top-half finish, but they’ve not been in good form at all.


Manager and players alike have underwhelmed

Speculation around De Zerbi’s future doesn’t help. The Italian coach has been linked with various Premier League teams from Liverpool to Chelsea, as well as European sides, including Bayern Munich and Barcelona. It’s fair to say that his stock has fallen slightly this season after such an impressive debut campaign last year, but he remains a manager that’s highly thought of.

And in terms of Brighton’s signings, Pedro has been a great signing, even if he doesn’t fit the typical Brighton mould of buying cheaply from abroad. But besides him who else has been a success? Ansu Fati, who arrived on loan from Barcelona, hasn’t made the desired impression, while Dahoud ended up back in the Bundesliga on loan, joining Stuttgart in January.

And sending forward Denis Undav back out on loan looks rather short-sighted. Undav, who joined from Belgian sister club Union SG in 2022, might not have been prolific for the Seagulls last season but has scored 18 goals in 27 Bundesliga games for Stuttgart this season.

With Brighton’s top league goalscorer this season being Pedro with eight goals, they could really do with someone more prolific. Young forward Evan Ferguson hasn’t kicked on after a promising season last year, while Danny Welbeck, now 33, has never been someone you can rely on for double figures.

Winger Karou Mitoma was a revelation last season, but hasn’t quite hit the same heights this term (in part due to injuries, with the Japan international having been sidelined since February) and midfielder Solly March has struggled with long-term injury this season too. Fellow winger Simon Adingra, who made his debut for the Ivory Coast last year, has impressed in his maiden Premier League season, but at 22, and with a relative lack of experience, he’s not been perhaps as influential.


There’s more competition this season

Part of Brighton’s struggles, too, is simply that the league is stronger this season. Last season, the only teams they finished below were both Manchester clubs, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Newcastle. This season, Tottenham Hotspur have improved, as, arguably, have Chelsea. Then there’s Aston Villa, who are on an upward trajectory, while the five clubs to finish above Brighton last season are all currently above them in the table this year, too.

West Ham United aren’t doing too badly, either, while Bournemouth and Wolverhampton Wanderers both look stronger than they did last season.

Maybe Brighton have peaked. While they’re very well-run, they aren’t a rich football club in the way that some of their rivals for European football are. It would be a surprise to see them ever go higher than sixth, in truth. But this doesn’t mean that they need to fall off in the way that Leicester and Southampton did before them.

A mid-table finish this season wouldn’t be a disaster. Perhaps it would be good for Brighton to go under the radar for a while. A summer not dominated by talk of them selling their best players could do them the world of good. Let this young team develop, improving it where needed and continuing to find some bright talents from overseas. Doing so might allow the Seagulls to think positively in terms of next season.

 

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