For a while, it looked as though Manchester City were set to be frustrated by a limited but determined Brighton side on the South coast.
While the Seagulls held out against almost incessant pressure for 70 minutes, they finally yielded and shipped two relatively soft goals as City made their dominance count.
A strangely subdued Sergio Aguero broke the deadlock as he raced onto David Silva’s through ball, before Lewis Dunk headed an unfortunate own goal under pressure from Gabriel Jesus just a few minutes later.
This helped City to claim a welcome and ultimately comfortable win, and here are four stats that emerged from the game:
27 – Mat Ryan is Brighton’s playmaker
We all know that City’s game is based on possession and the perpetual movement of players, with Pep Guardiola’s team unsurprisingly commanding the ball for 78% of the time at the Amtec Stadium.
It was City’s aggressive pressing that really caught the eye, as Brighton struggled to make any sort of in-roads on the rare occasions that they did attempt to attack.
The Seagulls’ inability to retain the ball and build attacks is borne out by the stats, with Australian goalkeeper Mat Ryan completing more passes than any Brighton outfield player (27).
Pascal Groß was next in line with a paltry 26 passes, while fellow debutant Davy Propper attempted just 15 with a completion rate of 53%.
2 – City have been tough to beat in 2017
Manchester City’s 4-0 thrashing against Everton at Goodison Park represented Pep Guardiola’s debut season in microcosm. Dominant in possession and toothless in attack, the Blues were overrun on the counter-attack by a Toffees side that scored with each of their four shots on targets.
Although City still showed signs of wastefulness on Saturday, their play was far more structured and they have also been deceptively difficult to beat in 2017. Since the defeat at Goodison on 15th January, City have lost just one of their subsequent 18 league matches (a 2-1 reversal at Chelsea in April) and are currently unbeaten in nine.
In total, City have lost just two of 20 league matches during the calendar year, and the continuation of this form will make them genuine title contenders this time around.
100% – David Silva turns in an all-action display
Despite his obvious talent and penchant for creating chances, David Silva occasionally cuts an enigmatic figure while drifting in and out of games. This was not the case on Saturday, as Silva turned in a dynamic performance in the centre of midfield while laying on an assist for Aguero and creating five chances in total.
Silva’s display matched his close-cropped, no-nonsense hair cut, as he buzzed around the final third with energy and menace. Only Nicolas Otamendi attempted more than Silva’s 101 passes, while a completion rate of 93.1% underlines the quality that he brings to Guardiola’s side.
The diminutive Spaniard was also impressive off the ball, pressing with intensity while winning an impressive 100% of his aerial duels. He also won 25% of his tackles and found time to make an interception, as he looked to offer much needed support to Fernandinho in the holding role.
Sterner tests await Silva and City, but the Spaniard looks to have hit the ground running this season.
63% – Brighton must show more quality if they are to cope in the Premier League
Not only were the Seagulls starved of the ball against Manchester City, but their passing also lacked accuracy and tempo when they were in possession. Not a single Brighton player managed to achieve a pass completion rate above 80% during the 90 minutes, while lone striker Tomer Hemed endured a torrid time in attempting 17 passes and completing just 35.3%.
As a team, Brighton finished with a pass completion rate of just 63%, far below the standards expected in the Premier League. In contrast, City’s collective completion rate was 90%, and this highlights the chasm that Brighton will have to bridge in their debut Premier League season.
Sure, not every side they face will be as good or as dominant as City, but most Premier League sides possess significant quality on the ball and like to press with intensity when out of possession.
Brighton must therefore hope that their new signings (particularly those in midfield) adapt quickly to the rigours of the Premier League, otherwise more reinforcements will be required before the transfer window is out.
Rodrigo reported as Brighton target, but he is surely too expensive?
The Valencia striker is reportedly wanted by a trio of Premier League clubs.
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.
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.
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.
Is Brighton’s Christian Walton a future England star?
The 22-year-old stopper has been in fine form at Wigan Athletic.
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.
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.
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.
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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