Brighton cruised to a comfortable 2-1 win over Championship opponents Derby to secure passage to the quarter finals of the FA Cup. First-half goals from Anthony Knockaert and Jurgen Locadia were enough to see the Seagulls through.
An 81st minute strike from veteran Ashley Cole – his first ever FA Cup goal – ensured a more tense finish to the match, after Albion had dominated proceedings until that point. They were able to keep Derby at bay, though, despite a goalmouth scramble in injury time.
While the Rams edged possession with 53%, they struggled to do much with it. Indeed, they only managed six key passes compared to Brighton’s 10, even though they were ahead in the possession and passes categories.
It was a disappointing display from Derby, considering they are a side hoping to soon make their way into the Premier League. Frank Lampard admitted that his team did “not turn up” in the first half. Chris Hughton will be pleased with the assured nature of Brighton’s performance, although he admitted his side “should have made more” of their chances in the game.
The Seagulls went with a 4-3-3, morphing into a 4-1-4-1 when off the ball. Jurgen Locadia, who has been mostly operating on the wings, was given the nod down the middle with main man Glenn Murray rested from the matchday squad entirely.
After featuring mainly from the bench of late in the league, Anthony Knockaert was given a start on the wing and had a superb game. The Frenchman scored and completed two dribbles, as well as managing an excellent pass success rate of 94%.
Derby also went with a 4-3-3 formation. It was orientated slightly differently to Brighton’s, however, with both Tom Huddlestone and Craig Bryson dropping deeper while Harry Wilson played higher up.
David Nugent was given the nod down the middle but struggled to get into the game. He managed just a single shot and 26 touches. The only player with less touches was Duane Holmes on the left wing, who had an even quieter game with only 15 touches.
Derby build up struggles
Derby found themselves struggling greatly to put together any effective build-up play. Their preferred build-up method is from the back and on the floor, but they failed to properly implement this. They were often restricted to sideways and backwards passes by Brighton. Despite making more passes in the game, the Rams played fewer passes into the final third than their opponents, playing 98 compared to Brighton’s 134.
In the image below, we can see the faults in Derby’s build up play. Tom Huddlestone and Craig Bryson are dropping deep to play out from the centre backs. While Brighton are giving the centre backs room to play, their midfield three have Huddlestone and Bryson under complete control. It’s not a particularly high or intensive press, but it is one that forces the Rams to go backwards or sideways whenever they move the ball into midfield.
With the Brighton wingers also covering the flanks, one of the Derby attackers needs to be dropping in between the lines and into the half spaces in order to present a good forward passing option. At the very least, it would cause disruption to the rigid Brighton midfield line.
As we can see, there is little penetrative movement in behind the midfield line to create options or disruption. The move fizzles out when a long ball forward to the left flank is cut out by Brighton right back Bruno.
Brighton right side focus
Brighton found they had a fair amount of joy during the game attacking down their right. The flair and talent of Anthony Knockaert, together with the bombing forward of Bruno and excellence of Yves Bissouma during the match was key to the Seagull’s success.
In the counter-attack below, Bissouma has bombed forward to lead the charge into the Derby penalty area. He can only blast wide on this occasion, but his contribution would be more telling seven minutes later.
In this next image, we see the move that Bissouma has made a run down the right wing after some neat interplay with Bruno in his own half. This excellent surge and one-two down the wing draws Derby players towards him, leaving space to pick out Knockaert running in on the edge of the box.
Below, we can see the right-hand side combination in full force during the build-up to the second goal. Bruno plays the ball inside to Bissouma, which he is able to do due to Knockaert pulling a Derby player away to make space. This leaves Bissouma in a one versus one situation with Tom Huddlestone.
Bissouma is able to beat Huddlestone and send a shot crashing off the post, leading to the ball being turned in by Jurgen Locadia. Knockaert, Bissouma and Bruno were able to cause Derby many problems during the match, which ultimately led to two goals coming from that side of the pitch.
Duffy aerial threat
In centre back Shane Duffy, Brighton possess a great aerial threat which they were more than happy to utilise from set pieces. There were a couple of occasions in the match in which his presence caused noticeable issues for Derby.
A floated ball towards the back post area, which can be seen below, is what Brighton used to weaponise this threat. The floated nature of the corner suits Duffy, who is able to use his physical prowess to overcome opponents in the air. He does not need a whipped or pacy ball in to beat his man.
In the second half, too, another lofty corner to Duffy at the back post should have resulted in a Brighton goal. This time, Duffy heads back across to Bernardo, who should have done better with his strike at goal. The image below demonstrates the disruption that Duffy has caused in the box. Pretty much every Derby player has been distracted by his presence, which has left Bernardo in a massive bit of space in the centre of the box.
This was definitely a deserved victory for the Seagulls, who controlled the game throughout before a nervy last 10 minutes. They proved to have a variety of different ways with which to hurt the Rams, such as their right-hand side and Duffy from corners.
Derby, meanwhile, struggled to progress properly throughout the match. Brighton operated an organised and effective midfield structure to keep them at bay, and the Rams thoroughly lacked in imagination to break them down.
Brighton now eagerly await this evening, when they will find out who their quarter final opponents will be. With relatively few strong Premier League sides left in the competition, this could prove to be a big opportunity for the Seagulls.
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