A brave decision to drop Mat Ryan, Alexis Mac Allister’s emergence and an unwavering belief in his philosophy – how Graham Potter ignited Brighton’s season to take the scalps of Tottenham and Liverpool
- Brighton had been stuttering along this season but staying true to principles
- It has started to click for Graham Potter’s side with impressive wins recently
- Seagulls beat Liverpool, Tottenham and Leeds to move away from danger
- So how has Potter turned things around and what decisions has he made?
Brighton have been a peculiar team this season, flirting with danger, playing well without quite catching fire but now the Seagulls are soaring.
At one stage it was hard to see where the next win was coming from. They produced attractive football and were lauded as an example for smaller sides ‘playing the right way’, even without the victories to back it up.
The Premier League has a habit of chewing up and spitting out those teams, just ask Norwich. But now Graham Potter’s side are gathering momentum and points.
They’ve lost just once in eight games (and that was to Manchester City), upset Liverpool and Tottenham, overcame Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds and fought to a creditable 3-3 draw against Wolves.
So what have the south coast club done differently and how has Potter turned the season around?
Graham Potter has led Brighton on a brilliant run of form with one defeat in eight games
Dropping Mat Ryan
The Australian has been a mainstay between the sticks since 2017, racking up well over 100 appearances for the club.
It is always a risk to change goalkeepers and managers rarely have the bottle to do it unless a series of high profile gaffes forces their hand.
But Potter decided to bring in Robert Sanchez as his starter ahead of Ryan, who joined Brighton from Valencia for what was at that time a club record fee.
It has been a masterstroke from the Brighton boss to bring in Robert Sanchez as No 1
It was an even bigger risk as Sanchez, 23, only had first-team experiences during loan spells with Forest Green and Rochdale.
Potter is high on his talent and said: ‘Sometimes you get a sense that for the team, a different attribute can help and I think Rob has those attributes.
‘His potential is very, very high and then it’s our job to try and help him fulfil that potential, so that’s the situation.
‘He will have the support of us and let’s hope that it goes well for him.’
Sanchez has kept five clean sheets in just 11 appearances so far. It was a big call from Potter but has been fully justified.
The goalkeeper did not have a great deal of experience but came in for Mat Ryan
Alexis Mac Allister comes good
It has been an unusual start to life at Brighton for Mac Allister. He was signed in 2019 and then farmed back out on loan to his native Argentina with Argentinos Juniors and then Boca Juniors.
The 22-year-old central midfielder has international pedigree though, having represented his country two years ago, and is beginning to fulfil his promise.
Potter gave him a run of three games earlier in the season but it wasn’t until December that he was back in the matchday squad.
He’s been one of the top performers this year, starting against Leeds, Fulham and Spurs before missing the Liverpool win with a fitness issue.
Mac Allister combines well with Leandro Trossard behind the striker, usually Neil Maupay and his emergence has been a massive plus for Potter.
Alexis Mac Allister has been superb for the Seagulls since coming into the side regularly
Gross and Bissouma are running the show
Pascal Gross was dropped for three of five games from mid-December and has looked a player reborn since coming back into the starting line-up.
His reintroduction has coincided with Brighton’s upturn in recent form and the partnership with Yves Bissouma in central midfield is incredibly solid.
He is the more creative of the pair and in the first half alone against Liverpool, orchestrated three chances, more than anyone else on the pitch.
Pascal Gross has been excellent recently and is a creative force from midfield
Against Spurs, he delivered an assist and five key passes, earning the man of the match award. The only Germans with more assists than his 18 in Premier League history are Mesut Ozil (54), Leroy Sane (28) and Dietmar Hamann (22).
But for all of Gross’ work, it is his partner in crime attracting interested glances from teams further up the table.
Brighton may face a battle to keep hold of Bissouma in the summer. He made 10 ball recoveries against Liverpool and five interceptions, displaying all the elements of his game that have been so consistent this season.
Arsenal are reportedly front-runners for his signature and with performances like that, it is easy to see why.
Yves Bissouma is the shining light in midfield and played a key role in the win at Liverpool
Potter staying true to his principles
Many a manager has wavered when confronted with a loss of form and slide down the Premier League table.
But Brighton knew what they signed up for when bringing Potter on board. They were playing the long game and backing him to implement a philosophy that would eventually bear fruit.
Perhaps we are just seeing the start of that now. Fans have always been able to see what Potter’s side are trying to do.
Potter deserves a great deal of credit for maintaining faith in his philosophy this season
They played their attractive, expansive football without much reward at times this season but kept plugging away, trusting that the results and goals would come.
Recent form has been a reward for that patience and faith in Potter’s principles. He’s largely stuck with a 3-4-2-1 formation and at some point in every team’s evolution, they overcome a plateau and move to the next level.
Big wins over top teams might be a sign of the next step being made. Brighton are 15th now, 10 points clear of the relegation zone and do not look like a team destined for the Championship.
A steely defence
For all of Brighton’s fluid football, it has been their defence in recent weeks that stands out.
To hold Liverpool, Tottenham and Leeds and only concede once in the previous five Premier League games is a phenomenal effort.
Lewis Dunk, Adam Webster and Adam White are an impressive triumvirate both with and without the ball.
Potter demands an ability on the ball from his defenders and they provide just that in addition to a bloody-minded desire to defend, typified by Dunk.
Adam Webster and Lewis Dunk have formed a great partnership at the back
Tariq Lamptey had been the standout player at wing-back earlier in the season before suffering with a hamstring injury.
His absence has been well handled and Joel Veltman has been excellent since coming into the side.
Time will tell if Brighton have turned a corner but the Seagulls are flying in formation now on a trajectory up the Premier League.
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