Brighton have enjoyed a very positive start to the new season, winning three of their first four games in all competitions. What have you made of what you’ve seen so far?
It has been a very positive start. I think everyone was pretty nervous after the first half of the Burnley game when they were very out of sorts; Graham Potter tinkered a little bit with the formation and things just weren't happening. But credit to him, he changed things around the second half, brought on some substitutes and they scored within a few minutes to win that one and then it was a very composed, comfortable win over Watford. A big problem for Brighton last year was their inability to convert chances, but in their first two games, the xG was lower than what they actually scored, which is a great. Then, in the Carabao Cup, they had a team with an average age of 21 that beat a Championship side, and a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old came on, so the future is bright in terms of youth. There was a bit of a reality check against Everton. They were pretty much outclassed there, but on the whole, if you had asked any Brighton fans going into the season if they would have taken three wins out of four, they would have bitten your hand off.
Last season saw the Seagulls score their most goals and concede their least since promotion to the Premier League in 2017, while only six teams conceded fewer in the entire division. How good a platform is that for them to try and improve upon?
Oh, it's massive. It's interesting about the defence because, in 2021 Brighton conceded the second fewest amount of goals in the league, which is fantastic for a team that finished 16th. So much of the improvement has been built around the strong defence, particularly Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster and, I think most Brighton fans would say Ben White was actually the weakest link of those three defending and he has now gone to Arsenal for £50 million. They also had good back-ups in terms of Joel Veltman, Tariq Lamptey and Solly March. On the whole, defence has been the bedrock of their success, the problem is that when you have got that really good foundation to build on, the next step is being able to score goals. Unfortunately for Brighton last year, their expected points total was 61 and that would have put them fifth in the table. The differential was 20 points and obviously no one expected Brighton to finish fifth, but it does go to show that if they if they were able to be a bit more clinical in front of goal, they could have got close to the top 10 rather than having to get involved in the relegation fight.
The club had a reasonably busy summer transfer window and, on deadline day, brought in Marc Cucurella and Abdallah Sima. What did you make of their business on the whole?
It was an interesting summer. In terms of sheer numbers, 75-80 per cent was the outgoings of fringe players like Mat Ryan, Alireza Jahanbaksh, Davy Propper, Bernardo and players like that, then, obviously, the big sale was White. They have loaned out lots of young players and in terms of actual first team signings, there were only three: Enock Mwepu from Red Bull Salzburg, who looks like a promising midfielder, a back-up ‘keeper called Kjell Scherpen who is 6’8” - which I believe makes him the joint-tallest in Premier League history - and Cucurella, who is a wing-back who can compete with March. A lot of Brighton fans have been crying out for the club to buy a new striker and that hasn't happened. They've only got Neal Maupay (main picture), Danny Welbeck, and Aaron Connolly, and between the three of them, in 74 appearances last season, they scored 14 goals, which is not a great haul. They were trying to sign the likes of the Darwin Nunez of Benfica and Nicolas Gonzalez of Stuttgart and they were linked to Odsonne Edouard, who ended up going to Crystal Palace. Basically, they're a little bit worried that they're a bit short up front but the thing that people are very happy about is that they kept Yves Bissouma, which is a massive, massive boost. I’d say the fans won’t be too happy with the transfer window, but if you dig deeper, there are definitely some silver linings.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on this Saturday?
I would say Yves – he's absolutely fantastic. I think in the Premier League last year, he was the only player to get a combined total of 150 tackles and interceptions. He has been linked to moves to Manchester United, Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool. He’s a fantastic player and he only seems to be getting better. He's great at winning back possession, but he's also adding a bit more of a box-to-box element to his game.
How is Graham Potter likely to set up his side in west London?
It’ll be a three at the back with wing-backs; Sanchez in goal, Webster, Duffy and Dunk in the back three, Veltman at right wing-back, March on the left if he’s fit, otherwise it could be a debut for Cucurella. Bissouma will be in a holding role and in the midfield, Potter has done a bit of tinkering, so it could be any of Lallana, Mac Allister, Moder and Gross. I reckon Trossard could be in as a winger/No 10 and then Maupay up front. That’s roughly my predicted line-up.
The last meeting between the two teams ended in a pulsating 3-3 draw back in February 2017. What’s your score prediction for this one?
I’m awful at this kind of thing – a gentleman’s 14-14 would be good! I’m going to go for a conservative 1-1 draw.