Guardian writers’ predicted position: 19th (NB: this is not necessarily Ed Aarons’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)
Last season’s position: 15th
Odds to win the league (via Oddschecker): 500-1
Last season – the first with Graham Potter in charge after Chris Hughton’s five years – was always likely to be transitional. Brighton had previously adopted a pragmatic style which helped them return to the top flight after more than three decades and survive for two seasons, and the brave decision to part company with Hughton at times looked too hasty as the new manager struggled to implement a different approach.
When Brighton, despite dominating possession and registering 23 shots, suffered a first top-flight home defeatto their bitter rivals Crystal Palace at the end of February it seemed they could be heading for relegation. But the home victory over Arsenal after lockdown not only secured a first win of 2020 in June but also proved to be the catalyst for comfortable survival, even if Brighton conceded 11 goals in three home matches against Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City.
A defence marshaled superbly by Lewis Dunk and featuring the dependable Mat Ryan in goal and the rising star Tariq Lamptey – signed from Chelsea in January for a bargain £4m – at right-back will not be Potter’s main concern before this campaign, although the addition of the experienced Netherlands international Joël Veltman will provide more options at the back.
Finding a way to score more must be a priority, with Neal Maupay showing signs towards the end of last season that he is capable of improving on the 10 he managed in his first Premier League campaign after joining from Brentford last summer.
Leandro Trossard and Aaron Connolly were the next highest scorers with five and four respectively, followed by Dunk and his fellow defender Adam Webster on three. Adam Lallana’s arrival on a free from Liverpool could help in that regard; even if, at 32, the former England midfielder’s best days may be behind him, his experience could be vital as Potter tries to find the best formula for success.
The signing of the highly rated 18-year-old Jensen Weir from Wigan – son of the former Everton and Rangers defender David – could also prove to be a masterstroke but the England youth international faces severe competition to establish himself in midfield.
Yves Bissouma’s emergence ahead of Dale Stephens towards the end of last season has led to the Mali international being linked with a move to Arsenal and his continued development after a difficult first 18 months following a £15m move from Lille in 2018 could be integral to what Potter wants to implement. Alexis Mac Allister, an Argentina international who made nine appearances in midfield having spent the first part of the season on loan at Boca Juniors, could also play a more important role as Brighton target their highest top-flight finish of 13th that they achieved in 1982 under Mike Bailey.
That may be possible given the depth of talent available and it will be intriguing to see how Potter utilises the defender Ben White, having so far resisted attempts from Leeds to sign the player who spent last season so successfully on loan at Elland Road. Bids of more than £20m are believed to have been rejected, with Brighton adamant the 22-year-old will not be sold to a club who could be a relegation rival. Whether that allows Manchester United and the rest to follow up reported interest remains to be seen.
With home fixtures against Chelsea and United to start, followed by a trip to Selhurst Park as Brighton look to gain revenge, the start of their fourth season in the Premier League could go either way. Potter has assembled an exciting squad full of potential that looks equipped to take the next step – the question is are they capable of fulfilling that promise?
On the touchline A meticulous planner, the former Stoke and West Brom defender who started his managerial career in the fourth tier of Swedish football with Östersund never takes his eyes off the action during a match. And his instructions seem to be getting across.
On Zoom Potter isn’t one for bold predictions and never gets too carried away after a big win or embarrassing defeat. But he has been known to throw in the odd one-liner, such as when he said wouldn’t have minded playing without fans in the stadium given the stick he sometimes got. “It might have extended my career by a couple of years.”
The captain and defensive mainstay Lewis Dunk ended speculation about his future after he was heavily linked with a move to Chelsea by signing a new five-year contract. Born and raised in Brighton and having made more than 300 appearances, Dunk is the heartbeat of a side who will be attempting to extend the club’s stay in the top flight into a fifth season for the first time.
When the gambling entrepreneur Tony Bloom – known as The Lizard during his days as a poker player – stumped up the £90m investment required to proceed with Brighton’s ambitious plan for a new stadium in Falmer in 2009, even the most diehard fan would have struggled to believe it would stage Premier League football within eight years. Some shrewd managerial appointments and smart recruitment have ensured Brighton have continued to progress on the pitch.
Ben White, released by Southampton at 16 before being picked up by Brighton, earned plaudits far and wide with his performances for Leeds. He has racked up well over 100 appearances on loan at Newport County (League Two), Peterborough (League One) and Leeds (Championship) but has featured only twice for his parent club, in the EFL Cup in 2016. A Premier League debut is surely not far away.
The £900,000 spent on activating the clause in Veltman’s contract could prove money well spent. The 28-year-old, who will wear the No 34 shirt in tribute to his former Ajax teammate Abdelhak Nouri, has more than 20 Netherlands caps, having recovered from a serious knee injury sustained in April 2018.
Brighton played in “fisherman’s blue” during the first three years of their existence before switching to the famous blue and white stripes in 1904. Aside from one season wearing white in 1974 and the predominantly blue period in the 1980s, they have largely stayed loyal to the pinstripe and even incorporated it into their shorts for two dashing seasons between 1991 and 1993.
Notes from an empty stadium
Like most modern arenas, the Amex without supporters is an eerie place. Luckily there is no stopping the seagulls from stealing a view and providing something of an atmosphere at least.
Dunk’s continued exclusion by Gareth Southgate since his solitary cap against the USA in 2018 baffles many Brighton fans. Another strong campaign could force him into contention, and Southgate will also be keeping tabs on the progress of White and Lamptey.