Graham Potter – Brighton – 2022-23 Tactical Analysis

Embed from Getty Images

Normally we wait until around halfway through the season to do our Brighton tactical analysis. Graham Potter’s team typically remain the most fluid in the division, chopping and changing tactics, system of play and personnel on a match by match basis. It then becomes incredibly difficult to establish a sense of consistency within the team’s patterns, which is essentially the key to writing any team analysis on a grander scale. But this season, in the span of a week, everything appears to have changed for Brighton and their manager – the high-esteemed Graham Potter. After the shock sacking of Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea, Potter has quickly emerged as the favourite to enter the helm at Stamford Bridge, and appears to be on his way out even despite Brighton’s fine form at the start of 2022-23.

Embed from Getty Images

Let’s get one thing straight: Brighton have been outstanding to start the season, currently sitting in fourth place on four wins from six, whilst putting their concerns in front of goal to rest. Potter has been instrumental to the process, even establishing a sense of consistency in tactics, system of play, and personnel for the first time. So with that, we bring you our final analysis of Graham Potter’s Brighton, covering the 2022-23 season thus far.

TACTICAL ADAPTATIONS IN 2022-23

Embed from Getty Images

Under much in the way of inconsistency last year, we hypothesized that Brighton would switch more regularly to a 3-4-2-1 shape in the second half of the campaign. However, a 3-5-2 became commonplace instead (as common as you can get under Potter), with the side sometimes setting up in more of a 3-5-1-1 to combat the toughest of opposition teams. Leandro Trossard developed a nice understanding with Neal Maupay up front, Marc Cucurella fulfilled a role as the left-side of a back-three, and Yves Bissouma became the anchor that kept everything together in an uber mobile midfield.

Embed from Getty Images

This season, Potter has done away with the likes of Maupay, Bissouma and Cucurella for hefty fees (particularly in the case of Cucurella), and has utilized new players in new roles in their stead. The most striking change has come at the base of their midfield, where Alexis Mac Allister has transformed from a ‘Creative Ten’ to a smooth-operating, possession-dictating ‘number 6’. He sits and screens at the back end of Brighton’s midfield, with Moisés Caicedo also holding more of a defensively-minded role, despite his intense box-to-box mobility. Hi, quintessential ‘Shuttler’, how are you? They essentially struck the same balance in their midfield last season, but the tactical tweaks they’ve made this time around have been a heightened masterstroke of genius.

We had Pascal Groß down as more of a ‘Tempo Setter’ last campaign – someone who dictated possession, switched play right to left, and controlled the tempo. Meanwhile, Moisés Caicedo fulfilled a slightly more adventurous function in that box-to-box role, with the benefit of having Yves Bissouma to mop up all the messes in behind. But now with Mac Allister at the base, two key changes have emerged. Most devastatingly for opposition clubs, Groß has been afforded more room to gallop forward and finish off moves, with the Argentinean midfielder now controlling the possession and dictating the flow instead. Simultaneously, with Mac Allister being more of a possession-oriented player, Caicedo’s taken on a slightly more defensive part in the process.

Mac Allister’s been perfect for the deep-lying role in facilitating the best out of both of his counterparts, and it has simultaneously allowed the best to come out in his own abilities. While he remained a capable creator last season, his strongest assets were always his ability on the ball, and his defensive aptitude to press aggressively and win back possession. Sound like a position you know? Graham Potter recognized it too, just way before you, and made the smart switch.

Embed from Getty Images

This has even meant that Adam Lallana, who fulfilled that deep-lying role before Bissouma became the clearly defined ‘6’, has now played more advanced – as more of an ‘Inverted Winger’. It’s all about achieving balance in the side, playing to the strengths of the individuals within the wider team, and adapting to the opposition. Potter has achieved those facets of the game better than almost anyone this season, and it’s a true testament to his tactical aptitude.

But as we all know about Potter, he’s also a great man-manager. His masters degree in emotional intelligence will have served him well, and he will be dearly missed by his team from a personal perspective if he departs.

SYSTEM OF PLAY: 3-4-2-1

Graham Potter prioritized the 3-4-2-1 in 2020-21, achieving a fabulous season despite an underperformance in goals compared to xG, and in their table position compared to xP. In 2021-22, the 3-5-2 became the common dogma within a litany of fluidity and flexibility, most notably manifesting more as a 3-5-1-1. This season, Potter’s gone back to the 3-4-2-1, with the understanding of how to get the best out of the balance of his team.

Embed from Getty Images

The move of Mac Allister to defensive midfield has been crucial to that formational change, as it’s freed up Pascal Groß to play in an advanced role. He’s been more an ‘Inverted Winger’ this time around, even though he plays the role very much like an advanced ‘8’. This notion is elucidated all the more when Enock Mwepu plays as the other ’10’ in the team, as he favours central areas and plays the part more like a ‘second striker’ in behind Danny Welbeck.

So in that case, if the German is actually an ‘Inverted Winger’, then Brighton have a lopsided shape. Is the 3-5-1-1 back in style for the Seagulls? Not really, no. Because with Mwepu as the ’10’, Trossard can play high and wide at left-wing-back, and achieve that sense of balance. Groß can then interchange positioning and panache with Solly March – the right-wing-back of the team, creating that free-flowing nature to their attack that we’ve all come to know and love.

Embed from Getty Images

As Caicedo holds that defensive, holding role, Alexis Mac Allister can then pick and choose moments to venture forward himself, looking for moments of magic to strike from distance or play a killer Kimmich-esque pass into the box. But more commonly, he will sit in front of the defense in a 3+1 or 3+2 rest-defense, supporting the centre-backs in those moments of transition.

Those aforementioned centre-backs have remained entirely consistent for anyone’s standards let alone Potter’s – with Dunk, Veltman and Webster starting all six matches so far. Robert Sanchez has also made his impact in goal, boasting a 50% clean sheet percentage and a 70.6% save percentage from between the posts.

Embed from Getty Images

Pervis Estupiñán entered the door as a Cucurella replacement just before the window closed shut, and might be the man to unlock Leandro Trossard’s full attacking potential. The presence of the former Villarreal man will now mean Trossard can be freed up to play that left-sided role in attack, where he thrives in creating space in and around an opposition defense.

Embed from Getty Images

But overarchingly, Potter has been almost un-Potter like this season in terms of consistency. Nine of his players have started all six matches, with Welbeck and Mwepu also featuring in all six. This has allowed the Seagulls a sense of consistency for the first time in their beach-loving life, achieving chemistry in their play en route to a top four pursuit. If only the manager was set to stay at the club.

ATTACKING PRINCIPLES

Embed from Getty Images

Last year we spent an hour on Brighton’s build-up, but this time around we’re skipping straight to the attack. Brighton have normally been a possession-based side dominating the ball wherever they go, but this season they’ve been slightly more transitional, and currently boast a below 50% possession record (albeit 49.9%) for the first time since the days of Chris Hughton. Having slightly less of the ball has not been a concern whatsoever for the Seagulls, as they’ve only grown in their approach on the break.

Embed from Getty Images

Trossard thrives when given space to run in behind, and carries the ball forward whenever possible. Transitions then become a nice place to bring out the best in his skill-set, as he dribbles his way out of pressure. But Pascal Groß has also been exceptional in transition, as a late arriving move-finisher.

But we must not cast the rain on Brighton as a transitional team. They are fabulous at what they accomplish on the ball through the phases of the game, and achieve a sense of fluidity wherever they go. Positional play remains at the height of what they accomplish in the final third, with players adjusting to the positioning of one another. We touched on many of those common combinations already, including the interchange of March and Groß, and the variability to which Mac Allister and Caicedo will join attacks. Wide combinations remain at the heart of everything they do, with Trossard wiggling his way out of tight spaces, and Groß dominating the half-spaces everywhere he goes. The German roamer has developed into something of a Thomas Muller-esque ‘Raumdeuter’ this season, scoring 3 goals through his box-to-box mobility.

Embed from Getty Images

But it’s his space interpreting that has been so clever, adjusting his position to match the needs of his teammates and the situation at hand. He’s astutely found space at the right moment on the blindside of the nearest defender, popping up in the right spot to gobble up rebounds or crosses into the box. No player has touched the ball in the attacking third for the Seagulls more than the 31-year-old (29.5), where Groß can now dovetail as both the creator, and the goal-scorer. Alexis Mac Allister has also chipped in with 4 goals, all of which have come from free kicks and penalties. Brighton have done a fantastic job in winning spot kicks so far this season, through the incisive attacking play of Leandro Trossard and Danny Welbeck to get their bodies in the way and force the opposition into a critical mistake. If the team keep rocking at this rate, Mac Allister will end up with 25 goals. That’s never going to happen; but it’s a fun thought experiment.

Embed from Getty Images

It’s all the more fun when you consider that Mac Allister has been the man to typify Brighton’s tactical adaptations in 2022-23, seamlessly transitioning into a deeper role without any doubts.

BUILD-UP

We couldn’t skip this section entirely. It is Brighton after all. They’re always going to be doing something fancy. But with the caveat that things have been less meticulous out from the back and slightly more direct, we can now bring greater context into how they play out from the back to success. The numbers change between sources, but Brighton have attempted the fourth-most long passes per game this season, completing close to 60% of their attempts. Dunk and Mac Allister are the most successful in hitting their long-passing attempts among the heavy hitters (76% and 72.3% respectively), with all the usual suspects at the top of the attempts list – including Sanchez and Groß. All three of Brighton’s centre-backs feature in the top five of that list, illustrating a certain extent of how much they prioritize playing long out from the back.

Those passes are primarily channeled toward the half-spaces for an ‘Inverted Winger’ or striker to chase. Trossard and Welbeck both love to channel run, almost as though they’re competing against one another for a channel running prize. But the team’s long passing exploits can also be used as mechanisms for switching play from side to side, with the Seagulls always maintaining width in the form of their wing-backs.

Potter’s men also set up in a traditional diamond shape, with Mac Allister at the top and Sanchez at the base.

Sanchez may move wider from the goal to create an angle of support to receive, and he’s a frequent option when the team recycle play. Caicedo meanwhile remains relatively uninvolved in initial build-up phases when compared against his mates, but funny enough has still completed the most short passes of anyone (16.4 per 90). This is down to the fact that he holds less of a progressive passing role, and more of a tempo setting one – keeping the game flowing quickly whenever he picks up the ball. It’s the likes of Dunk and Mac Allister that will set the real groove of the team into motion, looking for those moments to play progressive passes over the top or from side to side. Webster meanwhile likes to carry the ball forward if given the chance, which makes logistical sense given that he has the defensive boss in Caicedo holding rank on his side. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Webster is the most adventurous of back-three members.

The fact that Groß gallops so far forward in attack means that Joel Veltman can sometimes hold the width to the same height as the left-wing-back on the other side, particularly when it’s the more defensively minded Pervis Estupiñán. After all, he is a former right-back, who has played many a time in Potter’s system at right-wing-back. If you weren’t watching closely enough, you’d be forgiven for wondering if their build-up was actually 4-2-4, given the relative heights of both players in question. Then if you were watching closely enough against Fulham, you’d be completely right. They actually changed to a back-four. That was fun. But it didn’t work out too well.

Embed from Getty Images

Again though, you can see a clear attempt from Potter to achieve balance within his ranks. Why have a massive gap between high-flying Groß and low-flying Veltman when you can bridge that gap and bring them closer together? Simultaneously, you need that width if Mac Allister and Dunk are to switch play. So Veltman’s wider position means that narrow and compact defenses (i.e. Leeds), massively struggle to contend with Brighton’s expansion of the field. So much so, that Jesse Marsch even complained after the match about Brighton suspiciously making the field bigger (this didn’t happen, but it could). The variability that this then allows for players like March and Trossard to rummage around in the half-spaces allows the Seagulls to only bring dangerous players closer to goal, rather than further away. Masterstroke.

DEFENSIVE PRINCIPLES

Embed from Getty Images

Brighton are fun. If you haven’t realized it yet, you haven’t been reading this article very well. Their fun side expands to their defensive stability, where they’ve conceded 5 goals in 6 matches this season, but kept clean sheet in 50% of their matches.

The fun side first begins in their press from the front. Brighton’s press, as you might expect, remains just as fluid as their attack. A couple of quick highlights…

  • It’s always zonal and ball-oriented, but when a man approaches a player’s zone, they will track that man diligently almost as though it was always meant to be man-to-man. This is not uncommon for elite pressing structures, but a smart way of conducting defense nonetheless.
  • It’s aggressive, without crossing a line.
  • It’s always from the front, with only Leeds completing more pressures in the attacking third than the Seagulls (39.5 per game).

If we take these facets in isolation, a couple of other key highlights emerge. Firstly, the shape can be adaptable to suit the opposition’s set-up, and the fluidity of movement of said opposition. Typical shapes include 3-2-4-1 and 5-2-2-1, where the wing-backs will hold varying degrees of height depending on the location of the nearest player. I’m sure you can guess the ‘2’ in that equation that hold down central areas, and it’s worth noting that both of them are incredibly mobile in motoring around and hurrying opposition players away. Alexis Mac Allister has even boasted a pressure success percentage of 37.2%, channeling his inner Lewis Dunk wherever he strolls.

Embed from Getty Images

Pascal Groß also has the engine of someone in their mid-twenties, and has been essential to the pressing process. Then you have someone who is actually in their mid-twenties in Leandro Trossard, who wants to push and probe from the front at every opportunity. It was he who struck the first wake-up call to Manchester United on opening day, pressing and pushing United off the ball and then striking into the side-netting within minutes of the match starting.

At the back, you have Dunk and Webster always looking to put their bodies in the way of everything, and who both dominate the air as if no one else is there (particularly Webster). Both defenders are exceptional in their understanding of positioning and timing, always looking to get ball-side and goal-side on crosses into the box to clear the ball out of danger. Above anything else, this has been the greatest facilitator of their clean sheet record. Dunk’s pressure percentage ranks at 55.6% this season, the highest in the division of players to make more than 3 appearances.

Embed from Getty Images

He’s also tackling with a 66.7% success rate, completely dominating those dire 1v1 duels at the back. When you have the mobility of Mac Allister and Caicedo already breaking up play in transition to great effect, you don’t even necessarily need the stability in behind. But in Webster and Dunk, they have two of the best centre-backs in the division, without anyone recognizing it.

At the very back end of the pitch, I always think of Sanchez as a ‘Sweeper Keeper’, but his defensive actions outside the penalty area actually remain quite low this season (0.33 per 90, with a 13.9-yard average distance).

Embed from Getty Images

To give you context for those that haven’t read our various pieces on the matter, David De Gea and Edouard Mendy rank higher than him on defensive actions outside the penalty area this season, and we’d have both firmly in the ‘Shot Stopper’ category. In part, I think this is a product of Brighton’s stellar defensive structures, and the fact that they don’t play that high of a line. We talked about this at length last season, but their press tends to edge toward greater distances between the lines, enticing their opposition to play further away from Brighton’s goal. The fact that Webster is so dominant in the air (77.3%) will also naturally curtail long passes into his path; and Dunk imposes the same fear factor even if he’s been slightly less successful than his mate.

Where Brighton will struggle more is if you can make the game more transitional, and expose the high-flying shapes they create in attack. Fulham accomplished this feat to great effect, and handed the Seagulls their only loss to this point in the season.

They let Brighton have the ball out from the back whilst pressing relatively diligently, and looking for triggers (such as loose touches and receiving with the back to goal) that could then amplify their intensity. They made the game more transitional in feeding the dynamic wing-play of Kebano and Decordova-Reid in the gaps between centre-back and wing-back, and utilized Mitrovic’s ‘Targe Man’ hold-up play to pull players out of position. This prompted Potter to switch to a back-four to tighten those gaps, presenting a rare Potter innovation that didn’t quite pay off.

Embed from Getty Images

All and all, Brighton are still a marvelous side in defensive phases, and achieve the right mix of intensity and aggressiveness, without crossing that line. They may struggle against sides that want to make the game more transitional this season, as they remain well equipped to defend against teams that prioritize a more meticulous build-up out from the back. Whoever comes in to replace Potter will need to sure up their defensive structures in the same manner, especially in case the goals dry up in good ol’ Brighton fashion.

CONCLUSION

Embed from Getty Images

As conversations continue between Potter and Chelsea, we can’t help but feel that this will be our last tactical analysis of his time in charge of Brighton. But we sincerely hope it’s not. Potter has made Brighton into one of the Premier League’s most fashionable, tactically adept outfits, and one of the most exciting teams to watch. The way they achieved success in seasons past through chopping and changing shape and personnel to match the opposition will long be remembered as unlike anything we’ve ever seen. They’ve only grown and matured from that approach in 2022-23, finally establishing a sense of consistency en route to a top four charge. Long live the king at Falmer Stadium. Whomever comes in to replace him now has massive shoes to fill.


Embed from Getty Images

So there it is! What just might be our final tactical analysis of Graham Potter’s Brighton. If you want to roll back the years with us, be sure to check out the below. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

-> Graham Potter – Brighton & Hove Albion – Tactical Analysis (2021-22)
-> Graham Potter – Brighton & Hove Albion – Tactical Analysis (2020-21)
-> Undervalued Premier League Talents: Leandro Trossard
-> Undervalued Premier League Talents: Pascal Groß
-> Marc Cucurella – Player Analysis
-> How Brighton beat Arsenal & Spurs in a 3-5-1-1

If you liked this article, also be sure to also give us a follow on social media @mastermindsite and @desmondrhys for the author of this article.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY…

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia – Player Analysis

Taking the world by storm in 2022-23, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has come from relative obscurity to join one of Europe’s most famous clubs, and now leads their charge toward the top of Serie A. The direct and dynamic wing wizard has been in remarkable form since joining Napoli from Rubin Kazan, contributing to 5 goals in his 7 matches so far this campaign, already close to bettering his tally from 2021-22 in Russia. Here is our analysis of the remarkable rise of Khvicha Kvaratskhelia this season.

Woobens Pacius – Player Analysis

At the start of the 2022 CANPL season, Woobens Pacius appeared to have lost his place at the top of Forge FC’s attack. The Hammers had brought in Pacific icon Terran Campbell, who had haunted Forge among many other Canadian Premier League teams en route to Pacific’s Playoff victory in 2021. But Forge’s attack didn’t fully click in the opening weeks of the season, and they struggled to find the right chemistry, particularly with Campbell’s desire to engage lower on the pitch and support the play. In came Woobens Pacius to restore faith to Forge’s fervid attack, and the Hammers immediately went on a stunning run of form.

Explaining the Inverted Winger – Player Role Analysis

Unlike their name might imply, ‘Inverted Wingers’ are far more than just wingers that cut or drift inside. That is only one small part of an overarching role that prioritizes playmaking in the final third, and dynamically linking play between the other members of the front-line. The best of the art will often post high numbers in goals and assists, but ‘Inverted Wingers’ need to be so much more than just creative goal-scorers – generally tasked with creating space, rotating with teammates, and moving off the ball to exploit the half-spaces at the right moments.

2 thoughts on “Graham Potter – Brighton – 2022-23 Tactical Analysis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s