Graham Potter – Brighton & Hove Albion – Tactical Analysis

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Although Brighton & Hove Albion have hovered around the relegation zone throughout the year, they’ve never looked in any real danger. Graham Potter’s side haven’t been the best Premier League this season, but they play some very exciting, tactically complex football that cannot be ignored. Twenty-one points after twenty-one matches has the Seagulls on track to survive for another year, as they currently sit seven points above the drop. After their important 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur as part of a four match unbeaten run in all competitions, we analyze Graham Potter’s Brighton and Hove Albion. Here is our tactical analysis.

SYSTEM OF PLAY: 3-4-3 / 3-4-2-1

Graham Potter’s Brighton have been one of the most tactically fluid sides in the Premier League two seasons in a row now. They’ve been able to transcend and operate in a number of different formations, most notably a 3-4-2-1/3-4-3 formation. The formation allows Brighton to defend with a 5-4-1 or 5-2-3 structure, with wing-backs highly important to their attack going the other way. Due to their attacking shape of 3-2-5, it is more frequently a 3-4-3 shape despite what some might think, with the wingers linking up alongside the striker rather than remaining detached.

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Mat Ryan started in goal for the first eleven matches of the season, but didn’t have the best of times. The goalkeeper conceded 19 goals in his 11 appearances, making just 16 saves along the way. Since matchday twelve, Spanish import Robert Sanchez has had a better spell in goal, making 27 saves and conceding 10 goals in his 10 matches. At right-wing-back, Potter’s first choice Tariq Lamptey quickly developed into one of the first names on the team sheet in general. However the former Chelsea man has suffered through injury in recent months, and Joel Veltman’s taken over. Adam Webster, Lewis Dunk and Dan Burn have been a fairly consistent trio at the back for the Seagulls, although Ben White is a guaranteed starter at the back when he’s not fulfilling a midfield role. In those cases, Dan Burn is the most likely to be left out of the side, or moved to left-back. The six-foot-seven Burn was a surprising fit for the left-wing-back slot last season, but has been fully displaced this time around by the more adventurous and creative Solly March. Since Lamptey’s injury, March has arguably been Brighton’s most consistently influential player, making his mark in both attack and defense.

The aggressive tackler Yves Bissouma is one of the most natural number 8’s in the league, but Brighton don’t have a guaranteed starter in midfield alongside him. Ben White has consistently made a positive impact when deployed in the middle, while Steven Alzate, Adam Lallana and Pascal Groß have all been given their chance to shine as well. Further forward Brighton have been lacking goals, but Neal Maupay looks set for a decent return, having scored seven goals so far. Maupay has played all three positions in the front three, with his most impressive run of form in front of goal coming on the left. Leandro Trossard, Danny Welbeck and Alexis MacAllister all offer the Seagulls something different and might be Potter’s preferred attackers beyond Maupay. Aaron Connolly is also a decent attacker, while Adam Lallana and Pascal Groß can fulfill a role in the front-line when required. Potter’s flexibility with his system and his desire for squad rotation has meant that twenty-five different players have featured for the Seagulls so far. The key figureheads however are the eighteen that we have highlighted. Now let’s get into more of this tactical analysis, including how Potter utilizes these players to achieve success.

YVES BISSOUMA + 1

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Quite similarly to Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea so far, Graham Potter’s Brighton attack in a 3-2-5 shape, with both wing-backs galloping up the field. It’s not an infrequent occurrence to see one wing-back crossing to the other, or the front three all operating in central channels to allow greater width from those wide men. With the wing-backs there’s been genuine consistency, which cannot be said to the same extent in central midfield. The various players that Potter has at his disposal will all offer something different alongside Bissouma. In particular, they can offer greater degrees of attacking intent. It’s not uncharacteristic for the shape to even look like 3-1-6, as Brighton throw everything and the kitchen sink to cause havoc in the opposition penalty area. This would mean the non-Bissouma central midfielder joining alongside the front three and the wing-backs, creating another number in central areas as sort of a fluid quartet. Positional interchange can then occur between these four as they attempt to exploit gaps in the opposition’s defense, through quick short passes and through balls.

In transition this 3-1-6 or 3-2-5 shape could be an issue, but the wing-backs and Bissouma have been outstanding breaking up quick attacks. The shape is also very compact, so Bissouma or both central midfielders are never terribly far away from the attackers. This allows them advantages in pressing, and makes Bissouma one of their key weapons in defense. The Malian international’s made 2.9 tackles per game, the 9th best record in the league of players to feature in ten or more matches. Crucially, this can allow someone like Pascal Groß greater flexibility to venture forward and create, where he does his worst/best damage. Adam Lallana or Alexis MacAllister may fulfill a similar role to Groß when they play alongside Bissouma, joining the front-men in central areas. Ben White or Steven Alzate on the other hand will normally play a more defensive role. Ben White is an excellent passer of the ball and offers Brighton greater flexibility to attack down the right side through his ability to open up the game. Steven Alzate is a comfortable dribbler, and may venture forward to a similar extent to Yves Bissouma. Given that the Malian’s continued to perform exceptionally well even without a guaranteed partner, it’s clear to see why so many rate the 24-year old midfielder so highly.

free-flowing wing-backs & wide overloads

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Another positive feature of Brighton’s play under Graham Potter has been his use of wing-backs to venture forward and create chances. The Seagulls have completed twenty crosses per game, the seventh most in the league. Lamptey was a crucial driving force for Potter’s team at the beginning of the season, creating chances, winning penalties and wreaking havoc for his opposition. His impressive record of 2.5 fouls won per game still sits fourth in the league, behind the likes of Grealish, Zaha and Barnes. It’s also nearly double of any other Brighton player. Pascal Groß has also played well when Joel Veltman’s been in the team, being given greater freedom to roam forward and deliver crosses from the right. On the left-wing-back spot, Solly March has been highly dynamic and creative. His crosses have been relatively inaccurate without a target man to find, but his desire to get up and down the wing and remain a constant threat has been impressive.

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With the passing range of someone like Ben White or Lewis Dunk as well, Brighton have methods of quickly switching play and exploiting space out wide. This allows for the team to have greater emphasis on their wide men in attack. Dunk, acting as the libero in the team, is one of the best passers Brighton have to offer, even if you might assume he’s just another hard-man at the back. He’s picked out 5.3 accurate long ball passes per game, most of which are hit diagonally out wide or to an on-rushing wide attacking midfielder. The team as a whole don’t shy away from longer passes, which allows them some unique advantages in setting their wing-backs free early on in their attacking phases. These wing-backs can then link up with the other members of the front five in overloads down one specific side. This is exacerbated when Lallana, Groß or MacAllister play alongside Bissouma instead of someone like White, creating even more overloads for the Seagulls to utilize in attacking phases down the right in particular.

playing out from the back & possession

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One of the hallmark’s of Graham Potter’s time in charge at Brighton has been the increased emphasis on possession. Despite currently sitting in seventeenth in the table, Potter’s side sit ninth in terms of possession (50.7%). A fairly high percentage of their passes come from longer, diagonal passes or crosses, boasting the third most amount of long passes per game (63). But they are also very comfortable in picking out these passes at the right moments, rather than forcing them when they are not on. These longer passes will be used to allow the team to swiftly advance up the field and catch the opposition off guard, where a wing-back or wide attacking midfielder will knock it down and begin a series of shorter, more intricate one-touch passing and moving sequences utilizing their overloads. Again, the Seagulls remain very patient in attack. This has perhaps been one of their Achilles heels, but it has allowed them to retain the ball. If they do not find a way forward, they have no issue recycling the play back to the centre-backs and restarting the move out wide.

high pressing

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Given their attacking shape and desire to throw so many numbers forward, it’s unsurprising that the Seagulls also adopt a high pressing approach. All of Brighton’s front men have a certain physicality to them despite their size or stature, and work very hard right from the front to win the ball back. Players like MacAllister, Trossard and Groß love a tackle, and their vibrancy at the front allows the Seagulls greater ability to defend in transition and avoid becoming exposed in a ludicrous 3-1-6 shape that should be susceptible to quick counter attacks. The entire team attempt to get into the opposition’s half when pressing, remaining compact and utilizing a four-man diamond to press the ball. That four man diamond may include the entire front three and the wing-back, or include a central midfielder rather than the far-sided winger. Bissouma’s partner may venture forward to a greater frequency during the press, regardless of which side the ball is on. This allows the Malian to remain withdrawn and break-up play should the press be broken, or the opposition attempt to switch play.

In longer spells without the ball, the Seagulls may adopt a 5-4-1 structure, remaining very compact and doing everything in their power to funnel the opposition into central areas where their back-three and midfield-two remain incredibly tough to break down. Impressively, Potter’s team have won the fifth most amount of tackles per game (16.8), and the seventh most interceptions (11.3). They’ve conceded relatively few goals from open play (13), having a less impressive record from defending set-pieces (7 conceded) and giving away penalties (6 penalty goals conceded). They’ve also allowed only 16 crosses per game, the joint fourth best record, managing to shuffle their opposition away from dangerous wide areas exceptionally well. This again points to how successful the wing-backs and wide-centre-backs have been, but also how good as a team they’ve been at pressing from the front to allow themselves more time in possession and less time defending.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

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Although Brighton and Hove Albion sit just above the relegation zone, they appear to be on the right track toward safety. Their principles of play and intricate tactics are far better than their league position would suggest, and Graham Potter is certainly leading his team toward better times. The Seagulls have impressed both in and out of possession, favouring dynamic wing-backs to create overloads in all phases of the game. Their 3-2-5 attacking shape is starting to become something Premier League fans might become accustomed to seeing in the league more with the arrival of Thomas Tuchel, but Graham Potter was the first to implement this sort of shape in the league this season, to no recognition. If they continue on with these same principles of play and can continue their stellar recruitment, Graham Potter’s Brighton will have no issue surviving the Premier League for years to come.


So there it is! A tactical analysis of Brighton & Hove Albion under the influence of the tactically-minded Graham Potter. Be sure to check out more of our Tactical Analyses, including all the latest on everything Thomas Tuchel. Also be sure to share your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

You might also enjoy…
-> Why Thomas Tuchel is the Perfect Fit for Chelsea – Tactical Analysis
-> Thomas Tuchel’s Principles of Play – Tactical Analysis
-> Frank Lampard – Chelsea – Tactical Analysis (Post-Sacking)

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