By Nathan Brown

When Brighton & Hove Albion moved to thank Chris Hughton for his efforts and wish him well at the end of the 2018/19 season, few expected the appointment of Swansea City manager Graham Potter.

Hughton had always been deemed a capable Premier League manager, but Potter had as yet been untested at the very top level, despite leading an Ostersunds side to the knockout stages of the Europa League. However, with the extended 2019/20 season finally at an end, it’s clear to see that Potter has cemented his status as a manager capable of taking on the challenges of the English topflight, but also a manager more than capable of building on his already burgeoning body of work.

Last season under Potter, Brighton sought to shift their tactics, moving away from the slightly defence-first approach that had kept them in the division under Hughton. Instead, they began to focus more heavily on progressive play, maintaining possession and working the ball through and around the opposition. It seems to be a shift that would have been considered worlds away from something achievable for the south coast side, but with players like Aaron Mooy, Davy Propper and Pascal Grob in midfield, it doesn’t seem such a giant leap of faith.

Last season, the club averaged around 52% possession under Potter, but the season before that saw an average of 43%. With more of the ball comes more potential in the attacking third, and Brighton have brought in the players to do just that. Neil Maupay, signed from Brentford last summer, found the net ten times in the Premier League, and while that goal return may appear fairly average it’s worth noting that Maupay possesses a willingness to harass the opposition back line constantly, seeking to press the player on the ball as often as possible. In that regard he becomes an extra defender, defending from the front. The same can be said for Aaron Connolly, an Irish youth product, whose three goals last term again doesn’t reflect the work he does for his teammates behind him.

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There is a workmanlike feel to this Brighton side, but also a backbone made up of creativity and guile. Leandro Trossard, a highly underrated player, adds unpredictability and a desire to run at the opposition with the ball, often floating into pockets and finding positions of space which make him a devious opponent. In central defence, Lewis Dunk is often deemed to be one of the best players outside of the top six. A ball playing centre back, Dunk has been in and around recent England squads and it is easy to understand why. Under Potter, Dunk is afforded the freedom to play progressive passes through the lines which can break the opposition press, but also allow the creativity in the centre of the pitch, in the form of Mooy or Propper, to prosper and get the ball forward into attacking areas. It makes the south coast club a major threat on the break, but also a team with real potential to continue their progression under their new manager.

Behind the scenes, the club are run smoothly and with a real clear vision and an understanding of the league and the benefits that stable building blocks can give a club of their relative size. When you hear their CEO, Paul Barber, the values and the ethos of the club are obvious. Barber believes in being sustainable, in seeking growth in the right areas and with the right personnel and the right commercial partners. The acquisition of former FA Director of Elite Development, Dan Ashworth, who oversaw much of the national side’s strategy overhaul between 2012 and 2018, highlights that very notion. Between them, Barber and Ashworth have a combined vision for Brighton and Hove Albion, and under Potter that vision is becoming less of a constructed pathway towards success and more of a genuine reality.

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As the new Premier League season edges closer, the club have already acted swiftly and cleverly to sign one of Liverpool’s title winners, Adam Lallana, on a free transfer, as well as bringing in Dutch international Joel Veltman for just £900,000 from Ajax. If the club can continue to be prudent in buying the right materials ahead of the new season, might we be seeing a new challenger for the Europa League places in the Premier League next season? You wouldn’t bet against them, as one thing is for sure – under Potter they have an architect with a growing reputation and the tools to take his club wherever he wants to.