December has been a heavily disrupted month for Brighton so far, with two fixtures called off due to Covid-related issues, but they sit 13th at the time of speaking, with 20 points from their first 16 games. What have you made of the past few months?
You could say this season has been broken down into two halves for Brighton so far. They had a fantastic start where they were flirting with the top four places and, ahead of a couple of games, they actually had chances to go top of the table if they won, though they ended up drawing against Crystal Palace and Arsenal. If you look at their first five games of the season in the Premier League, they won four of those and had also done well in the Carabao Cup, particularly in terms of using youth players. At the time of writing, they are on an 11-match run without a win in the league and, in that time, they have scored seven goals; their expected goals total is 19 and they have only scored 14 while they are on 20 points, but their expected points is closer to 23. So their demons from last year – in terms of not taking their chances – are appearing to rear their ugly head again. In November, a lot was made of the fact that the players were booed after their draw with Leeds, a game that they dominated and really should have won. It was a bizarre incident because, at the time, Brighton were eighth in the league. This was a team that had always been around the relegation places before and, just over 20 years ago, Brighton nearly went out of business, though it was a minority and I think a lot was made of it. So overall, they had a really good start to the season and, over the last 11 games, they really have stalled.
When you spoke to brentfordfc.com earlier in the season, you touched on how the Seagulls had been missing a clinical edge in front of goal. Is this something they are looking to address in January?
This has been something that has dogged the club and they have really struggled to find the answer. The message from the club has always been that it is really hard to find a 20-goal striker, because you have got to pay shedloads of money for one. Last season, only two players scored more than 20 goals and that was Mo Salah and Harry Kane. Their approach in buying a striker is always that they have a budget and they really don’t want to just throw the money out there because it is not always an answer. Fans desperately want them to buy a striker to go along with Neal Maupay, who seems to be delivering, but Danny Welbeck is very injury-prone and Aaron Connolly is not really showing that he can be the guy to fire the goals. They did try to sign Darwin Nunez from Benfica but his stock is going up and up and now top six clubs are looking at him. There is a cautious approach; if they do get someone, it might be that they look at a younger player and look to improve him over a number of years, but as for splashing the cash on a striker, I don’t think that is the route they are going to go down.
How are the cancellations and Covid affecting Brighton at the moment?
It was reported in The Athletic that Brighton were left “fuming” that they weren’t able to get their game against Wolves last Wednesday called off despite having numerous cases. In terms of the players I understand missed the game because of Covid, that was Maupay, the top goalscorer, and the ever-reliable Pascal Gross – who is basically their assist machine. Because they have got so many injuries, at one point, because of that and Covid, they were almost around the double figures mark for missing players. And they are not just fringe players, they are key players: captain Lewis Dunk has a knee injury and is out until at least January, while Adam Webster may come back from a calf problem for the Brentford game, but hasn’t played since the start of the month so might not be ready. Danny Welbeck is coming back from a hamstring injury, but hasn’t played since September and it is the same with Steven Alzate. They have had key players missing and they have been down to the bare bones at times, so in terms of the games being called off, you could say they have maybe come at a good time as it may give players longer to recover from injuries, but also for players with Covid to complete their isolation.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on on Boxing Day?
Not to rub salt into the wound when memories are maybe still fresh, but Leandro Trossard scored a superb late winner at Brentford earlier in the season. That was an interesting game; Brentford were the better team in the first half, but they slowly-but-surely relinquished control of the game and Brighton grew into it as it went on. It did look as though the points would be shared, but he popped up with that wonderful curling effort. He can beat players for fun, too. Interestingly, Yves Bissouma (pictured above) is suspended and is, arguably, Brighton’s best player. We put together a fans vote of the Player of 2021 recently and he won that. Last season, he made the most combined tackles and interceptions in the Premier League with over 150 and this season, he has tackled a higher percentage of dribblers than any other player in the last with 84.6 per cent. He will be a huge miss.
How is Graham Potter likely to set up his side at the Amex?
His hands are somewhat tied by suspensions, injuries and Covid, but he has more often than not gone for three centre-backs and two wing-backs. So in defence will be Shane Duffy, Joel Veltman and, if Webster is not fit enough to start, Dan Burn, then the wing-backs will be the very potent duo of Marc Cucurella on the left and Tariq Lamptey, who has been brought back into the team after 10 months out with a hamstring injury and, in some games, has been absolutely brilliant. His pace, trickery and delivery into the box is something Brentford have really got to be wary of. Without Bissouma, the midfield will be interesting. If Gross is back from injury, I reckon he will be brought back in, with Adam Lallana a little bit further forward and Jakub Moder – a tall, roaming player – and then Trossard and Maupay, with Rob Sanchez in goal.
As you said, Leandro Trossard scored at the death to hand Brighton a 1-0 win in the reverse fixture back in September, but what’s your score prediction for this one?
With the way that things are going, I don’t know if Brighton will win. I think it will be a 1-1 draw.
Fans attending the game are reminded that COVID-19 protocols are in place at all major outdoor events. Brentford supporters will need to show proof of their COVID status to gain entry. This is a condition of attendance.