Manchester City return to Premier League action this Saturday as they welcome Brighton and Hove Albion to the Etihad. High spirits are hopefully present in the Blues’ camp following their return to form with victories against Cardiff and Oxford. Eight goals were scored by City in those two games with no reply, so perhaps this match will serve as an opportunity to build up the sort of momentum we experienced around this time last season.
Saturday’s opponents come into the fixture on a five-game winless run, following their most recent 1-2 defeat at home to Spurs. More damningly, Brighton travel to the Etihad without an away Premier League win in 10 months.
However, it’s best to avoid underestimating the side that opened their home campaign with a 3-2 win over Manchester United last month. In addition, their only league defeats so far this season have come to 3 sides in the top 5: Watford, Liverpool, and Tottenham.
Brighton currently sit 13th in the Premier League after finishing two places lower last season to survive their inaugural top-flight campaign. Having spent £60 million over the summer window, however, the Seagulls will hope to fly slightly higher this time around and may prove a bigger threat than they did last season.
Having played 3 of the traditional top 6 teams in their opening 6 fixtures, we’ve already had some insight into how Brighton might line up against heavyweight opposition.
Chris Hughton faced Spurs last week with his side in a 4-1-4-1 formation, aiming to balance defense and attack in a move that may appear slightly braver compared to the 5-at-the-back approach that many bottom half managers implement in big games. However, with the loss of Dale Stephens to injury last weekend, the Brighton boss will need to adapt his approach to the match.
I’m predicting Hughton to keep his 4-1-4-1 formation in place, and for him to introduce Beram Kayal to the team and push Davy Propper back into defensive midfield.
The goalkeeper and back four should remain unperturbed, as Australian Mat Ryan, who played every minute for the Seagulls last season, will keep his place between the sticks. The two central defenders Duffy and Dunk should remain in place too – the latter of which shares Ryan’s accolade of playing every minute of the 17/18 season. Gaetan Bong will probably keep his place at left-back, despite the arrival of promising Brazilian Bernardo in the summer – the 23-year-old will likely make more appearances as the season wears on.
Talented winger Anthony Knockaert will undoubtedly keep his place on the right-hand side, while Solly March, now in his seventh year at Brighton at only 24 years old, should appear on the left flank. In Stephens’ absence, Davy Propper might be the player to move back into defensive midfield – the Dutchman made 35 appearances last season following his premier league debut against City in August of last year. In central midfield, I’m predicting Bissouma to partner Kayal. The latter Israeli-born midfielder has been a fan-favourite in his time at Brighton, despite not scoring in 23 appearances last season.
Up front, 35-year-old Glenn Murray should keep his place despite a poor showing at the AMEX last weekend. The striker had no shots, nor any key passes, recorded a pass accuracy rate of below 50%, and gave away a penalty. Nonetheless, he’s scored the second most goals for teams outside the top 6 this season and his name still haunts City fans who remember our 2-1 defeat at Selhurst Park just 3 years ago, aided by a Murray goal.
Man to Watch: Anthony Knockaert
Although Glenn Murray is Brighton’s top scorer – and the 6th top scorer in the league – wide man Knockaert is most likely to cause City problems. Benjamin Mendy’s absence means Delph is likely to start and despite his solid performances at full-back, Brighton’s right winger is a real threat. The Frenchman has either scored or assisted in his last three games and draws around 1.7 fouls per match.
A Key Weakness: Poor first half performances
A notable feature of Brighton’s opening 6 games has been their poor performances in the first 45 minutes. Characteristically, they will sit off the ball and as such have recorded an average first half possession figure of just 36.58% compared to 40% in the second half. In addition, they’ve had 20 first-half shots this season compared to 33 in the second half.
This will most likely be their downfall – as Pep pushes his players to start quick and get on the scoresheet early – perhaps to preserve energy for Hoffenheim next week – Albion will probably be caught off guard. If they’re caught chasing the game after the interval – as has been the case in the past, as they lose the ball 35% more often in search of a goal in the second half – City will hopefully capitalize and push for more goals.
To learn more about our opposition, we spoke to We Are Brighton who provide a comprehensive coverage of Brighton and Hove Albion news and discussion. Here’s what they thought about Brighton’s summer deals and their start to the campaign.
11 players joined Brighton this summer, amounting to around £60 million. Are you happy with the club’s business in the summer window? Out of all these arrivals, who are you most excited about?
It’s small fry to City, but for us £60m was an absolutely huge outlay. Chris Hughton tends to be very cautious when it comes to using new signings early on and as such, only two of them have started more than one game – Martin Montoya at right back and Yves Bissouma in midfield. It’s hard to form an opinion given that we won’t see many of them starting until after the October transfer window, but record buy Alireza Jahanbakhsh has looked promising in a couple of cameos and Bissouma clearly has talent but is very raw. It will be interesting to see how he kicks on as the season progresses.
How much of an impact do you think the loss of Dale Stephens, Pascal Gross, and Jose Izquierdo have?
Huge. We haven’t won a Premier League without Gross, although he tends to have a limited impact away from home where Hughton asks him to play as a third central midfielder rather than in the number 10 role where he excels. Stephens is our enforcer and there is a little bit of bite lacking when he isn’t around and in Izquierdo’s absence, Solly March has been getting a run of games. Bar a strong showing when we beat United, he’s been largely dreadful. Izquierdo has played a couple of games for the stiffs now, so hopefully, he’ll be back involved in the next week or two.
In what areas do you think Brighton have to improve in order to finish higher than 15th and become a more secure Premier League team?
We’ve got to be more positive, it’s as simple as that. We’ve won two games out of 23 away from home since being promoted and scored only 12 goals. Hughton’s approach when we’re on the road is defend for your lives and try to earn a point. That just invites so much pressure and while it worked last season, if we want to climb the table we have to do more than that. The squad has enough talent in it to go away from home against sides around us and try and win the game. We saw that at Southampton where we were 2-0 down after an hour and he belatedly threw on a couple of attacking players and released the handbrake. We absolutely killed them after that, came back and drew 2-2.
What do you make of your season so far?
The fixture list hasn’t been kind to us, facing last seasons top four in our first seven games. Give that, I’d have expected us to have around five points from the first two months so we’re going about right. The frustrating thing, of course, is that we could’ve beaten Fulham at home but we gave them a 2-0 head start and I’ve already mentioned Southampton away which was eminently winnable. Four more points on the board and you’d be thinking bloody hell, what a start and we weren’t far away from that.
What are your thoughts on City’s start to the season, and do you see any weaknesses to exploit tomorrow?
Defending the title is always harder than winning it and I think that’s shown in the start City have made. Your win at Cardiff last week was ominous though and I suspect losing to Lyon was something of a wake-up call. Every great side needs to be reminded that they’re human at some point to jolt them into a reaction and unfortunately, that’s happened two games before we come to the Etihad! As for weaknesses, I don’t think there are any and even if there were, we won’t be in a position to exploit them as it will be 11 men behind the ball for 90 minutes.
Finally, what’s your prediction for tomorrow’s game?
We’ve only lost one game out of seven so far away at the top six by more than two goals, and that was the last game of the season against Liverpool when we were already on the beach and they were playing for places in a Champions League final. Our visit to Anfield a month ago only ended 1-0 as well, so we’ve shown we can blunt one of the most dangerous attacking sides in the division. I’m going for City to win 2-0.