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Brighton and Hove Albion

Anthony Knockaert is proving he is Premier League quality with Brighton

Jake Jackman

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Knockaert

Brighton and Hove Albion have started to find their feet in the Premier League, with their win over Swansea City seeing them move into 8th position. This is a remarkable position to be in after 11 matches and the supporters are starting to believe that they can become an established team at this level. They won’t be getting carried away just yet, but there are reasons to be optimistic about the rest of the season. The Seagulls have lost only one of their last six league matches and are building up momentum ahead of the busy Christmas period.

The star player of their promotion campaign was Anthony Knockaert and he arrived in the Premier League with a point to prove. There are many players that are pigeon-holed as too good for the Championship, but not good enough for the highest level. The Frenchman played a key part in the Leicester City side that achieved promotion under Nigel Pearson, but he failed to make an impact once the Foxes had reached the top-flight.

During the 2014/15 season, he made just nine appearances and only three of those were as part of the starting eleven. He failed to register a goal or an assist as a Premier League player and decided to move to Standard Liege at the end of his contact, despite the club offering him an extension. It was a brave decision from the winger, but one that can be looked back on as the right one. Knockaert looks back on the move away with no regrets.

“I am never going to regret the choices I made because I wasn’t playing too much in the Premier League with Leicester and it was time for me to go somewhere else and try something else. I always believed in my quality and, when I had the chance to come to this club, I knew the ambition they had. It was an easy decision to take and now it looks like a perfect decision.”

Standard Liege were his next destination, but it wasn’t long before he was offered a chance to return to England with Brighton in the January transfer window of 2016. The club were on the right tracks under Chris Hughton and challenging at the top of the division. However, they lacked a standout player in attack that could provide match-winning moments from nothing. Knockaert was identified as that player and it was the opportunity for the Frenchman to become the central figure of a team challenging for promotion.

That season was one of progression for the Frenchman as he did well in Belgium before dominating the Championship on his return. At Leicester, he had done well in the second tier, but his contribution for Brighton was next level. During the second half of the season, Knockaert got five goals and six assists, with a goal involvement every 163.3 minutes. Despite playing only half of the season, he bettered his tally of five goals and five assists from Leicester’s promotion campaign and that underlined the progress he was making in his game.

Brighton fell short in the play-offs and failed to win promotion, but there was hope that they could go one better the following season, especially as Knockaert would be available for the entire campaign. That hope was well-placed as the Seagulls stormed to a top-two finish and it was their French maestro that led the way with 15 goals and eight assists. The 25-year-old was awarded with the Championship Player of the Year award for his performances and few questioned the decision to give him that accolade.

This promotion would have been a lot sweeter for Knockaert as he was a key player and playing under a manager that rated him highly. There was freedom for the Frenchman to play his natural game every time he stepped out on the pitch and that brought out the best in him.

Those that followed the Championship closely believed he would easily transition to the Premier League this time around and his performance against Swansea City was a real indication that he is comfortable at this level.

Has he made an impact in the Premier League?

The Frenchman was superb against Swansea City and was arguably the standout player of the match. Although he hasn’t taken the league by storm, there have been some encouraging showings and he continues to improve on a weekly basis. Knockaert got the assist for the only goal of the match as his cross was met by Glenn Murray as the striker continued his good form in front of goal.

However, it was the overall performance of the winger that will have pleased his manager, in both halves of the pitch. The Frenchman is known for being a tricky customer in the final third, but he was willing to work hard defensively and contribute to the team effort as they kept another clean sheet. Chris Hughton is a manager that likes to focus on a solid defensive foundation and every player must do their bit to achieve that.

A player with the attacking flair of Knockaert may lack motivation to work hard, but he is buying into the style of the team. Against Swansea, he made four tackles, one interception and three clearances. No player made more successful tackles than him and considering his main role is an attacking one, he deserves to be praised for that.

In attack, he completed two dribbles and two key passes, looking dangerous every time he had the ball at his feet. It is important for players in newly-promoted sides to make the most of their opportunities in the final third as they can be few and far between. Knockaert has one goal and one assist to his name. It is a good start, but he will be hoping for improvement during the coming months. Saturday was a notable moment in his career so far and it is crucial that he builds on it.

Jake is a student based in the South East. He is a Newcastle fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton 0–4 Chelsea: Three talking points from the Amex Stadium

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Photo: Reuters

Chelsea secured their first Premier League win of 2018 as two goals inside the first six minutes helped see off Brighton and Hove Albion in a lively encounter at the Amex Stadium on Saturday.

Without a win in their last six matches – and without the services of the suspended Alvaro Morata and Pedro – the visitors went in front on three minutes when Eden Hazard found space in the penalty area to send a thunderous strike past Mat Ryan.

And Antonio Conte’s men struck again just moments later, with Willian lashing home after some wonderful one-touch build-up play from Hazard and Michy Batshuayi outside of the Brighton box.

Brighton responded courageously for the rest of the half though, with two penalty shouts being waved away – somewhat controversially – by referee Jon Moss either side of a superb Willy Caballero save from Tomer Hemed’s close-ranger header.

The hosts came out firing after the break too, with Davy Propper sending a header crashing off the woodwork, before Chelsea struck the post themselves when Willian’s free-kick was palmed by Ryan.

Despite Brighton’s endeavours it was the visitors who secured the three points late on, with the imperious Hazard grabbing his second of the afternoon before Victor Moses slotted home in the last minute.

The result sees Chelsea leapfrog Liverpool back into third place in the table – at least until Monday night – whilst Brighton remain in 16th, just two points clear of the relegation zone.

Relieved Chelsea return to winning ways in style

At the sixth time of asking, Chelsea have won a game in 2018.

The over-riding feeling may well be of relief for Antonio Conte and his team but on the day Chelsea didn’t play like a side devoid of confidence, playing some blistering football on their way to their win.

After scoring just one goal in their past four games they managed two in just six minutes, well and truly flying out of the blocks to shock the home team and earn a commanding early advantage before all of the supporters had taken their seats at the Amex.

The hosts simply couldn’t handle Chelsea’s counter-attacking play, with Eden Hazard in particular looking dangerous whenever he was on the ball, and Brighton struggled to keep him at arms’ length.

The Belgian was imperious, scoring twice, completing eight take-ons, creating three chances and generally just running the show, and Chelsea’s success this season – and their top-four challenge – will be largely determined by whether Hazard can continue in this vein of form.

It wasn’t all good news, mind.

At times they were defensively lacking, allowing Brighton too many clear sights of goal, and on another day – against a better attack – they might’ve been made to pay.

Yet, in the same manner, it could have been an even more flattering score-line in Chelsea’s favour on the day had it not been for a string of smart saves from Mat Ryan in the Brighton goal, and Chelsea will go into Wednesday’s Carabao Cup deciding leg against Arsenal in good spirits and with hope of progressing to the final next month.

Brighton draw another blank as Locadia lies in wait

Late on Friday evening, Brighton announced a new club-record signing for the second time in a matter of months as 24-year-old Dutch striker Jurgen Locadia made the move from PSV Eindhoven.

The former-PSV man has an excellent pedigree in front of goal, scoring nine times in 15 Eredivisie games this season, but he wouldn’t have been too impressed with his new team after six minutes.

At 2-0 down there was already a mountain to climb for Chris Hughton’s side, and with only one win in 12 Premier League games prior to kick-off – and considering that the Seagulls had failed to score on 12 separate occasions this season – it was always going to be a tough task for the promoted side.

And whilst that record extended to 13 score-less games out of 24 by the time the full-time whistle went, the final score at the Amex does little to paint a picture of how the match went.

Many would have expected another home capitulation, similar to their 5-1 defeat against Liverpool before Christmas, but that wasn’t to be the case this time around as from the moment Chelsea doubled the lead inside ten minutes Brighton were superb in taking the game to their opponents.

Willy Caballero was forced into an excellent reflex save on the hour mark to deny Tomer Hemed’s close-range header, Davy Propper saw a header bounce back off the crossbar and the excellent Ezequiel Schelotto saw a shot smothered as the Seagulls seemingly did everything but find the net.

Would Locadia’s presence have made a difference?

Looking at it, it probably would have done. There were times where Chelsea’s defence were at sixes and sevens, and the hosts created a constant stream of good chances.

But whilst Brighton ultimately have nothing to show for their dogged efforts it was a display that earnt deserved plaudits and offers a renewed sense of hope for the rest of the season.

With a good performance against the reigning champions behind them, and with a new signing raring to go, Brighton are well-equipped for a critical run of games to come next against Southampton, West Ham, Stoke City and Swansea City in their battle to avoid the drop.

Willian celebrates 50 not out with sumptuous strike

For a team where the likes of Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and Pedro consistently find themselves grabbing the headlines, it’s their Brazilian outlet Willian who is an ever-present in the Chelsea team.

Saturday lunchtime’s trip to Brighton signalled the 50th consecutive time that the 29-year-old has taken to the field in the Premier League, and whilst Chelsea have found it tough going since the beginning of 2018 Willian’s been impressing with four assists and three goals in his past five starts.

His latest instalment was arguably his best yet, too.

Out of nowhere Chelsea defied their recent woes with Willian, Michy Batshuayi and Eden Hazard producing some brilliant one-touch football on the edge of the Brighton penalty area before the Brazilian shifted the ball to one side and lashed past a helpless Mat Ryan.

It was the sort of move that wouldn’t have looked out of place in their title-winning exploits last season such was the quality and tempo of it, and it shocked the home fans in the Amex into silence.

With all of the talk of the past few days surrounding potential January moves for Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch – two players who can add a new and a far more direct dimension to Chelsea’s offensive play – both Willian and Hazard showed that there may not be a need to panic buy just yet.

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Brighton and Hove Albion

Brighton 2-1 Crystal Palace: Three talking points from the Amex Stadium

Jake Jackman

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Brighton

Brighton and Hove Albion reached the fourth round of the FA Cup after beating rivals Crystal Palace at the Amex Stadium on Monday night. This game was the first that used video assistant referee (VAR) technology, but it wasn’t used by Andre Marriner. It was a hard-fought contest, despite lacking the bite in the tackle that you would expect from a derby match. There was only one yellow card dished out in the game.

It was a great win for Brighton and they can take a lot of momentum from this match, as they enter a period of winnable league fixtures. Both sides made changes, but the home side were the better on the night, as they had 18 attempts to Palace’s five. The Seagulls will now face a difficult trip to Middlesbrough in the next round, but a cup run is a real possibility if they maintain this level of performance. Here are three talking points from the match:

Brighton need a new striker

They may have got the victory in the end, but the home side didn’t look very convincing in front of goal and that is a concern as they are in the midst of a relegation battle. Glenn Murray is a decent player and one that can contribute as he showed on Monday when he popped up with the winner. However, he can’t be relied on as the main source of goals.

Brighton have shown more goal threat during the last two matches and four goals from them is a good return. However, they had failed to score in five of their previous six matches. They were impressive against Palace and created chances for the frontmen, but the poor finishing remained a consistent theme.

Although Murray may be able to contribute in the Premier League, the other strikers in the squad have failed to impress. Sam Baldock looked like a player that was out of his depth, while Tomer Hemed is predictable to play against. If the Seagulls are to survive with comfort, they are going to need an injection of quality in their forward line.

Palace lacked a threat without Zaha

The FA Cup isn’t what it used to be and it was disappointing to see Roy Hodgson make as many changes as he did. The team may be in a relegation battle, but they have a talented squad and a cup run was well within their capabilities. Wilfried Zaha was one of those to miss out and it was obvious that Palace were not as threatening without him.

The winger has found consistency in the Palace team and regularly manages to influence matches, even when the rest of the side are playing poorly. His pace and trickery make him difficult to defend against, while his presence can open up space for other attackers in the team.

At the start of the season, Palace really struggled without Zaha and started the season in terrible form, losing their first seven matches without scoring a goal. It was talked about then how much the side missed their star winger and a reminder was given on Monday. Andros Townsend and Patrick van Aanholt both struggled to cause problems for the Brighton defence. If anything was to happen to Zaha, it could be a knockout blow for Roy Hodgson.

Beram Kayal played himself into Premier League contention

Beram Kayal used to be one of the key players for Brighton, but he may have played himself back into contention with a man-of-the-match performance against Crystal Palace. There had been doubts regarding the Israeli international’s ability to perform in the top-flight, but he delivered a complete display and stood out in both halves of the pitch.

Defensively, Kayal got stuck in and dominated the midfield areas. Brighton had a physical midfield picked as they paired the 29-year-old with Dale Stephens and it was a great selection from Chris Hughton and one that helped them win the tie. The midfielder completed all six of his tackles and made a further one interception. He was combative and willing to get in the faces of the Palace midfielders, which was important in a game such as this one.

Although it was his ball-winning ability that stood out, Kayal was very intelligent on the ball and rarely took needless risks when he had possession. He completed three dribbles and was vital in transition. His ability to carry the ball started several Brighton attacks and was an effective distributor, as shown by his pass success rate of 94%. Three key passes during the match show that he can be creative as well as combative. This performance should lead to him adding to his three Premier League appearances this season.

 

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Brighton and Hove Albion

Newcastle United 0-0 Brighton – Three talking points from St James’ Park

Jake Jackman

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Newcastle

Newcastle United and Brighton looked like two promoted clubs as they played out a boring 0-0 draw at St James’ Park. Neither side were able to create enough clear-cut chances to win the game and both managers will be looking at the upcoming January transfer window as a crucial period. Without reinforcements, both of these sides will be in a relegation battle. They did manage to keep clean sheets on Saturday, but that was more to do with the lack of attacking quality rather than excellent defensive showings. Here are three talking points from St James’ Park on Saturday:

Is Mike Ashley going to cause a third Newcastle relegation?

There were fresh reports in the morning that cast doubt over the ongoing takeover. The slow progress was concerning enough, but if the deal was to fall through entirely, it would leave Newcastle in a perilous position. Rafa Benitez is the most important figure at the football club and he is the symbol of a greater future. However, he won’t remain past the current season if a takeover doesn’t take place. Mike Ashley has broken too many promises to the Spaniard and their working relationship is strained.

Benitez is going to have to rely on Ashley one more time, as it is becoming increasingly clear that this squad isn’t good enough for the Premier League. The manager is doing the best that he can and their poor results hasn’t been for a lack of trying, rather a lack of talent. The team showed little ambition on Saturday and created few chances, despite being at home. Supporters left the stadium with a sense of disappointment as it was a fixture they had earmarked for three points, but they had no right to think in that manner. Brighton are higher in the table and spent more money on their squad during the summer.

If the outgoing owner wants to maintain a strong position in negotiations, he needs the club’s Premier League status to be secure. At the time of writing, it is under huge threat and investment into the playing staff is needed. Without it, a third relegation in the Ashley era is a real possibility.

Brighton must improve in the final third

This was a winnable away fixture for the Seagulls and a great opportunity to put more daylight between them and the bottom three. Newcastle had lost their previous five home Premier League matches and looked nervous throughout the game on Saturday. Brighton were allowed to dominate the possession, but they failed to create a single clear-cut chance.

Their set pieces caused problems for the home side, but given the players they had on the pitch, they should have done a lot better in open play. Anthony Knockaert and Pascal Gross are both very good at creating, but neither had much impact on the game. This was Brighton’s fifth successive away match without a goal and their 11th blank of the Premier League season.

Chris Hughton has the team well organised, but they need to score more goals if they are to survive comfortably. They may be in 12th position now, but they are only four points above the relegation. If they are to stay up with comfort, they are going to have to improve in the final third. Glenn Murray was a great striker in the Championship, but he doesn’t threaten often enough in the top-flight. A striker has to be at the top of the Seagulls shopping list next month.

Matt Ritchie’s place is under threat

Last season, the winger was one of Newcastle’s most important players and it was hoped that he would be able to make the step up to the Premier League. However, he has struggled to make the adjustment and it is becoming clear why Bournemouth were willing to sell him over a year ago. He lacks the dynamism to cause top-flight defences problems and he was ineffectual on Saturday.

The Scottish international does have five assists this season, but the majority of those have come from set-pieces. The problem against Brighton was that his set-piece delivery was poor and the reason for him being in the team was becoming less clear. This was a game Newcastle wanted to win, but their right winger was offering nothing in the attacking half.

He was the first Newcastle player to be taken off and the supporters are beginning to lose patience with him. Jacob Murphy’s end product has been questionable this season, but he has shown that he can beat opposition players and cause problems in the final third. There is no doubting Ritchie is a great player, but he is yet to prove himself in this division. It may be time to take him out of the starting eleven for a period.

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