This tactical analysis in the form of scout report will look at how Graham Potter helped Brighton survive in the Premier League. This analysis reveals that they have many promising features in their play. They are positioned twelfth for xG and tenth for xGA in the league. This means their xPTS places them tenth in the Premier League.
An under-performance on their xG by 7.01 could be a reason for being placed lower in the table. However, Brighton have an attractive style of play including the ability to high press (PPDA score 9.68). Furthermore, they complete a high number of passes close to the opposition goal, ranking them as seventh in the Premier Leaue. In other words, they show an intent to attack the opponent.
Potter has favoured a 4-4-2 formation (played for 830 mins) this season. Although he has used other formations for substantial periods, including 3-4-3 (653 mins), 4-2-3-1 (512 mins) and 4-3-3 (429 mins).
Build-up play – beating a press
Graham Potter has similar patterns in his team’s build-up. Firstly, the central defenders normally split to the width of the penalty box and the full-backs take up higher positions in the outside lane. Secondly, the two central midfielders work as a double pivot, supporting the build-up phase behind the first line of pressure. Thirdly, the wide players move inside and into the half-spaces either behind or to the side of the second line of pressure.
Therefore, numerical superiority is achieved in midfield (against teams that play a two-man or three-man midfield) and defensive security is offered through the middle of the pitch if the play breaks down.
The image below shows their build-up structure versus Arsenal. Brighton dislocated Arsenal’s high press by positioning the right-back higher up the pitch. This pinned Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (bottom right of picture) back, allowing space for the pass into the second centre-back.
Attacking play – central midfielder strategies
Versus Norwich City, Brighton was pressed by two strikers. To beat this, Brighton altered their positioning in the build-up and brought one of the pivot players out of the middle and into the right-back position. As the play built with the left side centre back, Davy Propper would move away from the ball from the centre of the pitch towards the right-back area (circled in the image below).
As the ball switched across the defensive line, he found space to receive to break the first line of pressure and it created an overload on the right side for Brighton. This overload was created by Tariq Lamptey, positioning higher up the pitch, and Aaron Mooy moving inside.
In the image below, the wide players have come inside (circled players) and positioned either side of Mateo Guendouzi against Arsenal. Importantly, this creates a 4v3 overload in favour of Brighton in the central midfield area as not all players can be marked or covered. The challenge for the defenders is to recognise the free player and play the correct pass.
Attacking play – final third
This section is about how the Brighton strikers move to create space for themselves and others. Neal Maupay (circled white) has pulled to the outside shoulder of the Arsenal centre back. His aim here is to make a penetrating run on the inside of the full-back. This movement makes the Arsenal right-back narrow up, preventing a pass being played inside of him. If the full-back did not offer cover, Maupay could isolate the centre back 1v1.
If the opposition prioritises defending the central areas, space for the full-backs is created. The opposite happens if the opposition full-backs position too wide. For example, if there were gaps in-between the opposition players it would be easier for Brighton to play through the middle.
In the final third, it is common to see Maupay and his strike partner work together to create space. They do this by one dropping short towards the ball and the other staying as high as possible without being offside. This can push the defensive line backwards creating space in front of the defence or a through ball can be played to the highest striker.
Pressing strategy – high press
Out of possession, it is common to see Brighton in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 formation. Before lockdown, we saw Brighton apply more pressure to the centre backs, particularly from goal kicks. An example of this is provided in the image below and highlighted by their PPDA in the table.
The angle of Maupay’s run shows the aim is to guide the build-up into Tottenham left-back. In this situation, the touchline is used to reduce space, adding more pressure to the ball carrier. The role of Pascal Gross (front screening Tanguy Ndombele) here is to press Ben Davies as soon as the ball is passed by Jan Vertonghen. Having guided Spurs into the pressing trap Brighton can overwhelm their opponent on the side.
Since the restart, Brighton is using a compact 4-4-2 shape that is difficult to play through. This could be termed a resting defence. During this phase, they are positioning close to the ball carrier and are not applying immediate pressure. The image below highlights the compactness of the first two defensive lines for Brighton.
In the defensive phase, Brighton position the three units in front of the ball and keep a high defensive line. This ensures compactness between the units and makes it difficult for teams to build attacks centrally.
Moreover, Brighton are preferring teams to play into wide areas. This allows them to adjust their shape and force play backwards or defend a cross into the penalty box. A trigger to press is on a diagonal pass or when a line is broken, as the image below shows.
Immediately after retaining the ball in their half, Brighton focus on finding a pass to keep possession. This pass is normally backwards or into wide areas. This allows the team time to get into the right positions to build their next attack.
In the restart, if Brighton is unable to get immediate pressure on the ball when they lose possession, they fall back into their compact shape. As a priority, they want to prevent passes through the middle of the pitch. Allowing players to get behind the ball and cover the central areas limits the counter-attacking options for the opposition.
A strength of Brighton is their tactical flexibility. Importantly, they can play numerous formations making it challenging for their opponents to prepare to play against them. Additionally, in some matches, the positions they occupy in possession can be different when they are out of possession.
Above all, their in-possession formation is to help them dominate possession and build play up through the thirds of the pitch. Whilst there out of possession formation helps them reduce space and they can choose to press or form a block. However, since the restart, they have changed their high-press approach and developed an out of possession strategy to defend in a mid-block.
An area that Brighton will look to improve is capitalising on the chances that they have created. Their xG shows a difference of 7.01. Teams that are positioned around them such as West Ham United, Crystal Palace, and Newcastle United are much closer to their xG target. Bolstering their attacking options will be a priority in the transfer window. Maupay has enjoyed a successful first season in the Premier League and scored 10 goals. Importantly, if Brighton can add another attacking player to contribute more goals their league position will rise.
This tactical analysis has provided some insight into Brighton’s tactics when in and out of possession.
In conclusion, they want to play a possession-based game. They do this by creating an opportunity for a central defender or midfielder to beat the first line of pressure with the ball. Brighton wants to overload the midfield area by bringing the wide player’s inside to position in the half-spaces. Whilst the build-up play brings the opposition forward to press, the oppositions back-line is pushed back by two strikers. This creates space inside the shape of the opposition to play passes through.
Defensively their style has adapted since the Premier League restart. They have moved from a high press to a compact 4-4-2 mid-block forcing play to the outside. Therefore, when the new season starts it will be interesting to see Brighton’s approach.