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

Brighton and Hove Albion

Rodrigo reported as Brighton target, but he is surely too expensive?

The Valencia striker is reportedly wanted by a trio of Premier League clubs.

Mathew Coull

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Photo: Getty Images

Brighton, along with Tottenham Hotspur and Everton have been linked with a move for Valencia forward Rodrigo this summer.

Calciomercato claims that all three clubs are interested in signing the Spanish international come the summer. The report discloses his massive €120 million (£105.4 million) release clause, but that offers in the region of €40 million (£35 million) are expected.

Which is surely when the links to Brighton have to stop.

Rodrigo, who had a spell at Bolton Wanderers as a young player on loan from Benfica, would be a tremendous signing for Brighton.

(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

The 22-year-old has scored 16 goals in 35 games for Los Che this season. Such form could see him earn a place in Spain’s squad for this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Brighton, however, simply cannot afford such a massive sum of money on one player, especially considering the club recently broke their record to sign Dutch striker Jurgen Locadia.

According to the Guardian, that fee was around £14 million. Paying more than double that on Rodrigo is simply inconceivable.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It would immediately undermine the money they spent on Locadia, who arrived from PSV Eindhoven and leave very little in the kitty to improve other areas of the team this summer.

Rodrigo would undoubtedly be a dream signing for Brighton. The Seagulls look increasingly safe in the Premier League and bringing in a top name this summer would be a popular move among fans at the Amex Arena.

But simply put, £35 million is just not a figure Brighton can or should pay for just one player. Instead, such money should be spread out throughout the team evenly. Distributing the funds in this way will allow Brighton to fully strengthen their side and maintain the balance that has taken them to a brilliant first Premier League campaign.

There might come a day when Brighton can afford to splurge £35 million on just one player. That day, however, will not be in 2018.

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Brighton and Hove Albion

Is Brighton’s Christian Walton a future England star?

The 22-year-old stopper has been in fine form at Wigan Athletic.

Mathew Coull

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Wigan Athletic’s FA Cup run has come to an end. The Latics lost 2-0 against Southampton at the DW Stadium, despite being the better team in the first-half. However, Southampton came alive in the second period and goals from Pierre Hojbjerg and Cedric Soares settled the tie.

It could have been more, were it not for a brilliant penalty save from Wigan goalkeeper Christian Walton. He dived to his left and got a strong palm to a driven effort from 12 yards by Manolo Gabbiadini. Unbelievably, Walton managed to get enough on the ball to turn it around the post and keep Wigan in the tie.

It was a brilliant save in what was another excellent performance from the young stopper. So do Brighton and Hove Albion have a future star on their hands?

Walton is on loan at Wigan from Brighton until the end of the season. It is the fifth loan spell of Walton’s career after similar spells at Bury, Plymouth Argyle, Luton Town and Southend United.

The 22-year-old’s brilliant performance v Southampton was no anomaly. He was in fine form in Wigan’s recent famous win against Manchester City.

Brighton clearly know they have a top talent on their hands, yet Chris Hughton has not yet pulled the trigger on the player.

In the summer, when Brighton lost number one David Stockdale to Birmingham City, Hughton signed two new keepers. Australian international Mat Ryan arrived from Valencia whilst Tim Krul was a free transfer from Newcastle United.

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

But Brighton did secure Walton to a new deal, keeping him at the Amex Arena until 2021. With Krul’s deal ending at the end of the season, perhaps Walton will be in line to be the Seagulls second-choice keeper from next season.

England currently have something of a concern regarding the goalkeeper position but the future is bright. Sam Johnstone, Freddie Woodman and Angus Gunn look like top talents and Walton must be included in the same company.

Not only an excellent shot-stopper, but Walton is confident coming off his line and good with the ball at his feet.

The competition is certainly fierce, with the likes of Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford and Nick Pope also potential future England goalkeepers.

But Walton might just be in with a shout of such accolades in the future as well if he can find his way at Brighton.

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Brighton and Hove Albion

Manager of the Month: Can Chris Hughton now play out a dream season with Brighton?

The Brighton boss was recently crowned February Manager of the Month.

Jake Jackman

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Chris Hughton
Photo: Getty Images

Chris Hughton has not received a huge amount of exposure for the job that he is doing with Brighton, but back-to-back Premier League wins have seen the Seagulls rise to 10th position in the table and he has subsequently been rewarded with the February Manager of the Month award.

As a newly-promoted team, they will have targeted survival. Although it remains tight at the bottom, it would take a considerable drop-off for the South Coast team to suffer relegation, especially following an unbeaten run throughout the last month.

But Hughton won’t be getting too far ahead of himself. After all, his team squandered a seven-point lead with three games to go in the Championship last season.

That said, he has done a tremendous job at the Amex Stadium and gone a long way to proving those that doubted him wrong. Hughton is seen as one of the nicest men in football and a safe pair of hands, but he hasn’t always convinced as a Premier League manager.

His first spell in charge of a top-flight club was at Newcastle United. Hughton led them back to the Premier League at the first attempt and the team were in 11th position when he was dismissed. It was considered harsh at the time and even Magpies owner Mike Ashley has admitted since that it was a mistake in an interview with Sky Sports:

“I thought I was very unfair to Chris Hughton, who got us promoted, I don’t think I gave him enough time.”

Hughton was well liked by both the players and supporters at Newcastle. He pulled the club together after the disaster of relegation and managed to win the Championship with ease. Considering it was his first job in management, he was thrown straight into a difficult job and coped well with it. The sacking has unfairly put a black mark on his record and he has been trying to erase it ever since.

The next Premier League he was given was at Norwich City and he fared okay with the Canaries. During his first season, he led them to 11th position. Considering their relative stature in the game, that is a great achievement. However, the style of play was bland and supporters were quick to turn on him in the following season.

The club sacked him with five matches to go in the 2013/14 campaign with the club lying five points above the relegation zone. It was a strange decision, especially as Neil Adams was chosen to take over with no experience of top-flight management. Norwich were relegated that season. They may have faced the same fate had they kept faith in Hughton, but they would have had a better chance of survival.

How he has enhanced his reputation at Brighton

Despite doing a decent job with Norwich before dismissal, Hughton had to drop a division to take his next job and it was with Brighton and Hove Albion. The Seagulls were in 21st position at the time after the poor tenure of Sami Hyypia, but the potential was obvious.

The facilities were great and the new stadium was built with Premier League football as the target. The club had challenged at the top for a number of years previous and had become regulars in the play-offs, but they couldn’t get over the line.

Hughton had won promotion with Newcastle and came close with Birmingham. It was a perfect match as he needed to repair his reputation out of the spotlight. It wasn’t instant success as he fought relegation for the rest of the season and stayed up by only six points. However, he did enough to win favour with the board and he hasn’t looked back since.

During his second season, the club challenged for promotion and missed out only on goal difference by two goals. It was heartbreak on the final day as they needed a win against rivals Middlesbrough, but came up short. They couldn’t get themselves back up for the play-offs and were knocked out by Sheffield Wednesday.

It seemed like both Hughton and Brighton had missed their opportunity of promotion, but they regrouped and earned it the following season in convincing fashion. They may have collapsed late to lose out on the title, but they had won promotion by April and it was never really in doubt.

That was an excellent achievement, but there remained doubts about Hughton’s ability to establish Brighton in the Premier League.

The summer saw him make shrewd additions with Pascal Gross, Mathew Ryan, Davy Propper, Ezequiel Schelotto and Jose Izquierdo coming in to strengthen the first-team. It took some of them time to settle, but they are all now starters. As a newly-promoted club, it is important to add quality to the squad if you are to survive.

Despite being a newly-promoted club, Brighton haven’t really been in much danger of relegation this season. They haven’t been in the relegation zone since the second week of the season. The bottom-half of the table has been tight, but the Seagulls have always had a buffer to the relegation zone. They have taken points from 18 of their 19 matches and their recent match display against Arsenal was the highlight of their season to date.

In the first-half, they attacked with vigour and caused Arsenal a lot of problems. They went 2-0 up and could have scored more on another day.

Although the Gunners got a goal back, the result never looked in serious danger and the home side managed the game well. It was a performance fitting of a Premier League team and the aim now will be to establish themselves at this level over the course of several years.

It is a challenge that Hughton will be relishing. In a period of few British coaches at the highest level, the Brighton manager is proving that he is one of the best and he could start to be linked with bigger jobs if he continues to impress.

The Seagulls remain in the FA Cup and have reached the quarter-final stage for the first time since 1986. Hughton is establishing himself as one of the best managers in the club’s history and although they face a difficult match against Manchester United to reach Wembley, they have the ability to get to the next round.

There is a long way to go in this season, but Brighton could feasibly finish in the top half of the Premier League and win the FA Cup. That would be a season beyond the wildest dreams of many supporters. It remains a long shot, but to be in with a chance is a great achievement by Hughton.

If his side can finish the season strongly, he has to be in contention to win Manager of the Year award.

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