Inside the Opposition

Inside the Opposition: Brighton vs. City (Predicted XI, Man to Watch, Opposition View)

Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

The long awaited return of the Premier League is this weekend, and this is the most excited I’ve been about a new season for a number of years – possibly down to the new signings and how good we looked in the pre-season tour. For the fans of the opposition, the excitement will be much more than that. Brighton and Hove Albion embark on a historic season, their first in the Premier League.

After flirting with the idea of promotion for five or six years, and enduring the heartbreak of a couple of play-off defeats along the way, ‘The Seagulls’ secured promotion last season in fantastic style, seeing off many of the historical ‘big boys’ of the division.

The last time the sides met was the best part of three decades ago, in the lower divisions of English football. That season, the home side won 2-1 in both games, and the attendance at Maine Road was 16,033 – with goals from Brightwell and Moulden. This Saturday, the stakes are much more than a mid-season-match in Division 2 – with the two meeting in the Premier League for the first time. I have aimed to document an inside look at the Sussex club, so City fans know what to expect at the weekend.

Brighton – Club Profile

City fans that are old enough will soon tell you about the journey they have been on as they watched the club through relegations and promotions. Brighton fans have similar, and deeper stories to tell. Twenty years ago this year, the Seagulls were on the brink of extinction, needing to win at Hereford to stay in the football league, and save their club from rotten ownership.

Their chairman Tony Bloom made his fortune in casinos, and the poker star gambled well with his investments in the football club.

After their previous ground, the Goldstone, was sold by the former owners, Brighton fans were forced to travel to Gillingham week in week out to watch their team – which would be similar to City’s home ground being in Nottinghamshire. After a period at the Withdean Stadium, an athletics ground not fit for footballing purposes, Brighton got their move to the very scenic AMEX Stadium – a facility fit for top-flight football. Whatever happens this season for Hughtons’ men, it will be a special year for Brighton fans.

Predicted lineup and an eye for new signings

No doubt through the summer Chris Hughton and his team will have been in two minds whether to ‘fix what is not broken’ or not. Last season Brighton adopted the classic 4-4-2 to much success, with Knockaert at the heart of everything good, cutting in from the right hand side. Two of three strikers in Murray, Hemed and Baldock would spearhead the attack, with a mixture of target man play and runs in behind. Despite the success of the 4-4-2, I imagine Hughton will have to adapt to fill the midfield more, especially against the big teams. Two men in the middle would mean Silva, De Bruyne, Touré et al would have a lot of joy on the ball.

On Tuesday, the Albion announced the signing of highly rated Davy Propper, a Dutch midfielder from PSV Eindhoven. The record-breaking new boy racked up over 200 appearances for the Dutch outfit, showing maturity beyond his years. Then on Thursday, the club smashed their transfer record again, securing a deal for Club Brugge winger Jose Izquierdo. The Colombian international managed an impressive fifteen goals in the Belgian Pro League last season, meaning the goal threat will be high from both wings this season. With just a couple of training sessions under their belts, I doubt we will see either feature from the start on Saturday, although we announced John Stones at a similar time last year and he made the cut.

New boys Mattie Ryan, Markus Suttner, Pascal Groß and Izzy Brown will all look to make their competitive debut in a blue and white shirt. Hughton possesses a team with strength in depth, with at least two more than capable players for each position on the field. How many of these are Premier League quality, is yet to be seen.

Glenn Murray didn’t feature against Atletico Madrid in the friendly at the weekend, but he is expected to get the nod ahead of Hemed and Baldock as Brighton head into the season lacking a striker that is proven at the top level.

Man to watch

Following an injury riddled pre-season, star man Anthony Knockaert will be eager to get on the team-sheet, and have a go at Danilo, City’s likely left sided full-back, who will be new to the speed and tempo of the league.

Following an indifferent spell at Leicester, Knockaert played in the Belgian league for Standard Liege before moving back to England to Brighton. He was key in a push for promotion in the 2015/16 season where the Seagulls missed out by the narrowest margins to Middlesbrough and Burnley.

Last season was when the Frenchman really flourished, easing his way to the Championship Player of the Year. In late 2016 his father sadly passed away, but this didn’t make a difference to his performances on the pitch. He was inspired to get better and better week in week out, and his passion was a big part of Brighton’s success.

If he plays to the standards he did last season, he is definitely of Premier League quality and will inspire Brighton to many crucial points.

A view from the opposition

I caught up with Braggfan and El Presidenté of North Stand Chat, a popular forum for Brighton supporters, to ask their opinions on the upcoming season, the transfer window, and their emotions for the day in general.

First match emotions

It’s going to be like Christmas Day. I’m old enough to remember our last home game in the top flight, which was also against City, and there’s been a lot of good and some very bad times since then. It’s a great stadium, and I am delighted for the chairman Tony Bloom, who has sunk £300 million of his poker winnings into giving us a chance to see our team against opposition we could only have dreamed of when we were homeless and hopeless for a long period of time.

It’s going to be an amazing day. The promotion run in was out of this world, the atmosphere, the excitement. I think there will be plenty of Albion fans pinching themselves to see if it’s real.

Views on the transfer window

We’ve bought smart rather than big. Aussie keeper Mattie Ryan didn’t help his home debut with a howler in a friendly against Athletico that made Claudio Bravo look world class. Davy Prőpper, our record £11 million signing from PSV, could give us the extra dimension in the middle of the park. He’s very Dutch, classy on the ball, elegant, but could start an argument in a phone box. We are still short of a centre forward though, although the chairman has said he’s willing to break the transfer record again for the right player.

We’re aiming to emulate Bournemouth and Burnley and stay up. That seems achievable. 

Season predictions

We won’t pick up much against the big six, lack of pace at the back will make us susceptible to opposition with quick strikers. Expect a few hammerings if we go behind early. We look strong in midfield, which should just give us enough when playing small clubs such as Crystal Palace to pick up the ten wins needed to survive. Prediction: 16th, with relegation avoided in the last home game against United in a scrappy 0-0 which ruins their title ambitions.

Result on Saturday

A decent performance against Atletico Madrid has boosted optimism amongst fans. A poll on our forum suggests 73% of fans think we’ll score against City, but only 11% think we’ll win. We might be in the same league, but it still feels like we’re on another planet.

It is probably the best time to play City, we are hoping that some of the squad are still bedding in. Yet, if City play as they did against Spurs last week we have no hope. I’m going for a plucky 1-0 defeat though.

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