Brighton might have had the Premier League’s most productive summer

Words by Oliver Young-Myles Illustration by Philippe Fenner
August 3, 2018
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With only ten days until the Premier League transfer window closes, the majority of the 20 teams in the division face a race against time to complete their desired business. There are two clubs who are yet to make a single signing this summer; Tottenham, whose chairman Daniel Levy is a notoriously last-minute negotiator and Burnley, who curiously abstained to vote over whether the transfer deadline should be moved forward or not.

But while most clubs will now have to embark on a desperate late trolley dash in order to mould squads capable of withstanding the rigours of Premier League football for the next five and a half months, Brighton will be able to sit back, relax and watch the deadline day madness unfold in front of them secure in the knowledge that their squad has been suitably bolstered for a second top-flight season.

Many Premier League clubs have found boosting their options in a reduced timeframe and during a World Cup summer a difficult task, but Brighton are not one of them. Chris Hughton has been proactive in improving his ranks, securing the signatures of eight new players before the end of July – more than any other club in the league.

While buying a lot of players at once offers no guarantee of success, it is a positive sign when a club conducts their business efficiently and effectively. Clearly, the influential figures off the field at Brighton, from chairman Tony Bloom to head of recruitment Paul Winstanley to manager Chris Hughton, are on the same page when it comes to transfers.

There hasn’t been a huge amount of fuss made over Brighton’s eight new recruits. There have been no ‘marquee’ signings, no ostentatious announcements made on Twitter and no new addition bought for £20m or over. Instead, Brighton have adopted a low-key approach; a clear emphasis has been placed upon identifying players that fit Hughton’s tactical model while also addressing areas of weakness within the squad, using statistical and analytical information.

It is a policy that served them extremely well last season. The £2.5m capture of Pascal Gross last summer when transfer fees became mind-bogglingly exorbitant, was an inspired piece of business. Gross had just suffered relegation from the Bundesliga with Ingolstadt, scoring five times and providing four assists from an advanced midfield position. Although those numbers don’t look particularly inspiring, dig a little deeper and you would have found the most creative player in the Bundesliga (Gross created 98 chances in 33 games) as well as a reliable set-piece taker (he found a teammate with 31.6% of his crosses into the box).

In his first season in the Premier League, Gross was the sixth-most creative player in the division only behind top-sox stalwarts Kevin De Bruyne, Christian Eriksen, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Mesut Ozil. In total, he scored seven goals and registered eight assists for the Seagulls.

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Someone who could repeat Gross’ heroics this year is club-record £17m signing Alireza Jahanbakhsh. The Iranian playmaker doesn’t arrive under-the-radar as Gross did due to his fee and having participated in the World Cup, but he has the potential to make a similar impact judging by his offensive output for AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie last term. Jahanbakhsh top-scored in the Dutch top-flight with 21 goals and provided 12 further assists from his 33 league appearances, therefore averaging a direct goal contribution every game.

While Brighton over-achieved last season, Hughton will have been acutely aware of the need to add more goals to his side. Only Huddersfield and relegated duo Swansea and West Brom scored fewer goals in the Premier League than Brighton, who were overly reliant on Glenn Murray and Gross’ output in the final third.

Jahanbakhsh’s ability to both score and create from a wide right position could well add another dimension to Brighton’s play, particularly as Anthony Knockaert struggled to recapture his 2016-17 Championship Player of the Year performances. Translating his form from the Eredivisie to the Premier League will be a big ask, but if Jahanbakhsh can contribute a third of the goals he did for AZ, he will be a big success.

Someone else that Hughton will be hoping to add increased firepower to the side, is Romanian centre-forward Florin Andone, who was picked up from Deportivo La Coruna for a reported fee of £5.25m. There are echoes of last summer’s Gross deal with Andone, as despite playing for a relegated side, he had a respectable campaign himself, scoring seven goals from 29 La Liga games of which 16 were starts.

Although Brighton struggled for goals as a team, in Glenn Murray they possessed the leading scorer in the bottom half of the Premier League table, with the 34-year-old netting 12 times. Murray, who turns 35 in September, cannot go on forever and both Jurgen Locadia – signed from PSV in January – and Andone, will be used to gradually phase him out. Of the two, Andone is the more natural replacement, as evidenced by three of his seven goals last term coming courtesy of his head.

Brighton have also swelled their ranks defensively too, securing goalkeepers David Button and Jason Stelle to challenge Mathew Ryan, as well as Nigerian centre-back Leon Balogun to apply some pressure to established duo Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy. Conceding from set-pieces was Brighton’s achilles heel last season and it will be hoped that Balogun’s towering 6’2 frame can in part remedy that problem.

Those three will predominantly act as backups, but Bernardo and Yves Bissouma will expect to start after joining from RB Leipzig and Lille respectively for fees in excess of £10m. Bernardo, who should usurp Gaetan Bong and Markus Suttner at left-back, posted solid stats across the board for Leipzig last season, including averaging over four tackles and interceptions per game.

Bissouma, meanwhile, is something of a coup in a midfield considering both Tottenham and Everton were said to be suitors. The unheralded Dale Stephens did a great job of screening Brighton’s back four last season, but Bissouma will add far more dynamism to the role. The Malian made 5.70 tackles and interceptions per-90 minutes in the 2017-18 Ligue 1 campaign and also succeeded with 55 dribbles from 24 games.

That he can also score the odd free-kick (as demonstrated in Brighton’s draw against Birmingham) shows that Hughton has landed an all-action midfield player who can dominate defensively as well as contribute in transition phases.

Finally, a word on Brighton’s scouting network. Since gaining promotion to the Premier League, Brighton have bought four players from the Bundesliga, three from the Eredivisie, two from La Liga and one apiece from Ligue 1 and the Belgian Pro League. They are doing their research right across central Europe by scouting competitive leagues and luring talented, yet otherwise overlooked players away from them for generally risk-free transfer fees.

They haven’t been as flashy as Wolves nor as extravagant as Fulham, but Brighton have had an excellent summer. With eight new players added to a squad that finished 15th last season, the Seagulls have every chance of consolidating their position in the Premier League.

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