Graham Potter has sought about structurally changing Brighton and Hove Albion into a more attackingly adventurous side. He has quickly implemented a 3-4-3 with positional play fundamentals in possession and a more proactive approach to defending. Potter began his tenure at the Seagulls with a 3-0 victory where his side showed more attacking endeavour meshed with the defensive solidity instilled by Chris Hughton. The partnerships of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk in defence as well as Davy Propper and Dale Stephens in midfield will continue to be the bedrock of the side as the foursome will have increased liberation in possession.
Brighton’s 3+2 shape in build-up
Dan Burn, Dunk and Duffy provide a lumbering rear-guard with a double-pivot of Propper and Stephens in front of them. Potter seeks to create triangles with Propper and Stephens positioned in the space in between Dunk and his wide centre-backs. Intriguingly, wide combination play is an essential tenet of Potter’s style, although he seeks to construct build-up play through the middle primarily. Burn or Duffy will move wider with Dunk moving closer to the ball-near flank, the ball-far midfielder will be positioned in between Dunk and the ball-far wide centre-back. The back-three seeks to circulate possession amongst themselves and Maty Ryan before playing the ball into the midfield double-pivot who seek to work play to the wing-backs.
As the centre-backs move closer to the halfway line, the 3+2 can seem like a 3+4 as the Seagulls’ wide combinations from the deeper areas were ineffective due to Watford’s ferocious and intense lateral pressure. Dunk has greater ball-playing responsibilities than under Hughton, especially when the double-pivot pushes up to create pockets of space for the Englishman to drive into. Early in the game, he played an accurate diagonal pass to Martin Montoya as well as more passes through the lines before eventually assisting the third goal for Neal Maupay. Direct balls were played into Glenn Murray and Jurgen Locadia for the strikers to hold the ball up and work combinations with the midfielders and wing-backs to quickly progress into the opposition half.
Brighton press in a 5-2-2-1/5-2-3
Brighton utilise a much higher block than under Hughton although they rarely press the opposition box and the opposition keeper ferociously. They are comfortable in conceding numerical superiority to the opposition defence for vertical compactness in midfield as Murray will lead the pressure phase with Locadia moving out to the left wing. Situationally, Pascal Gross and Locadia will push either side of Murray to press higher in a man-orientated fashion with Stephens moving close behind the duo while Propper will be the deepest-lying midfielder in a higher position slightly behind him. In these situations, Solly March and Montoya, the wing-backs will engage the opposition fullbacks when the ball is played out wide.
However, when Brighton are in their 5-2-2-1/5-4-1 shape, they will force the opposition into the wide areas where the ball-near wide attacker, midfielder, wing-back and wide centre-back will laterally press the opposition to win turnovers and establish quick breaks. The ball-far Brighton players will tuck in to close passing lanes while if the ball-far winger tucks in, the ball-far wing-back will hold a wider position for better coverage from opposition diagonals. Murray will also move into the wider area to win possession and establish numerical superiority while preventing any passes from the wide areas to the ball-near centre-backs.
Brighton counter-pressing (especially in Phase 2)
Brighton do not employ a high-press as they seek to win possession in the higher areas through closing the central passing lanes to win interceptions, lateral pressure and ferocious counter-pressing. Potter’s side will counter-press the opposition side upon ball loss with the player closest to the ball engaging the man in possession, his teammates will man-mark or surround the player in possession to deny him passing options while the back three will push higher to compress the space and win loose passes. This is when the Seagulls’ attacking block will be triggered into pushing up to press back-passes to the centre-backs and the keeper to force long balls, so they can regain possession.
More interestingly, Brighton will push up to engage the opposition in Phase 2. If Ryan plays a long-ball into the attack after which the opposition win possession, the three closest players will squeeze the man in control of the ball to regain possession or force a back-pass which will trigger a higher man-orientated press. The Seagulls will also put pressure on the ball from set-pieces as they seek to sustain attacks and create opportunities to break rather than retreating into a medium to low block.
Brighton wide combinations and attempts to create high-quality opportunities
Brighton seek to create high quality opportunities for Murray with clever chips and lobbed crosses from the half-spaces, against Watford a lot of these opportunities were blocked. Key to this was the organisation and coordination of the wide 3v3 combinations as the wing-back, wide attacker and wide midfielder will move into the lateral zones to create triangular three-man passing sequences for low crossing opportunities from out wide as well as lobbed crossing opportunities from the central pockets and half-spaces. The relationships between Locadia and March on the left as well as Gross and Montoya on the right were essential. Montoya would frequently underlap Gross, making runs into the half-space while Gross was positioned in the right lateral zone.
Potter has implemented facets of positional play into the Seagulls’ approach to possession as his side will stretch the pitch with the two wing-backs as there will be more interchange and coherent combinations when the ball progresses to the wide areas. They also worked passing sequences on one flank, enticing Watford into shifting their defensive block to one particular flank before quickly switching to the opposite flank to find the ball-far wing-back in space with opportunities for a 1v1. The positioning of the midfield double-pivot with the ball-near midfielder moving out wide while the ball-far midfielder positions himself more centrally facilitates quick combinations for switches.
Brighton 5-4-1 low block
Brighton will drop into a 5-4-1 defensive low block to create overloads in the wide areas while tightening the space in the pockets. Potter’s side try to put pressure on the opposition in all situations in the defensive phase of the game to force errors while denying the opposition direct access to the central channels. The Seagulls operate with a zonal defensive shape, but players are allowed to move with passes to create numerical superiority on the man in possession, especially when central lines are broken and when the ball is moved out wide. The players are not stagnant in remaining in their defensive shape but work rehearsed automatisms when the opposition progress into their half.
Burn, Dunk and Duffy are given greater autonomy to use their anticipation to push out of their defensive shape to retrieve possession when the ball is played into the pockets. Dunk will push up in the central areas while the wide centre-backs will push up in the wider central areas and the wide zones. Playing in a back five mitigates the risk of a defender pushing out of the defensive shape as the other defenders will cover his zone. If the wide centre-backs push up, the wing-back and Dunk can tighten the gap in between them in order to cover for his absence while when Dunk pushes up the two-wide centre-backs can adapt by tightening the gaps in between them to cover for his absence in the five chain. Dunk and Duffy made the most blocks in the Premier League last season as they both made crucial goal-line clearances. Their ball-playing responsibilities will be more important, but their defensive solidity will provide the basis of their game.
Potter’s first outing as the Brighton and Hove Albion boss was an impressive one as he proved through the club’s resourceful and well-schemed scouting policy, the side have an abundance of attacking depth. Leandro Troussard, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Jose Izquierdo did not feature. In midfield, Yves Bissouma and loan signing from Huddersfield, Aaron Mooy did not feature while in defence, Bernardo, Adam Webster and Leon Balogun did not feature. The Seagulls have eyes on the breaking the Premier League’s top ten as Potter seeks to mesh Hughton’s defensive solidity with his own attacking adventure while developing a talented set of players. Brighton have the opportunity to fulfil the vast potential that they have been building since Tony Bloom took over.