• Season Preview 2021/22 - Hedging My Bets

    Timing this thing is always impossible. Writing a season preview before the transfer window has slammed shut is a foolís errand Ė a wise Stat Brother said that recently Ė but writing one after the big kick off is after timing, he said conjuring the spirit of Enrest.

    And, of course, the internet is full of other peopleís predictions which means you may be influenced by them, knowingly or not, and you may well have commented or even started threads about said predictions.

    But still. Itís always fun to trot one of these out at the start of the season and, come May, look back and see how wrong it was. These things are never accurate. But they could be indicative. In the Albionís case the biggest unknown is (back to sentence two) the transfer dealings to come, or not as the case may be. The only sensible way to plough through the possibilities, then, is to assess each of the major contributors to our potential season and see where we are. Starting withÖ..

    Transfer Window

    So far itís been a good window for balancing the books. Weíve got shot of Propper and Ali Jís wages and flogged Ben White to Arsenal for (Dr Evil voice) FIFTY MILLION POUNDS. Players have again gone out on loan, notably Leo Ostigard, though weíve also seen Shane Duffy return. And all this may well be necessary. Clubs all around the world have lost fortunes in the pandemic and Brighton will be no different. If Tony Bloom sees a need to reduce losses and cash in on assets, why shouldnít he? His money. His ball.

    The only notable incoming player is Enock Mwepu. Ostensibly a midfielder, and highly rated, he may find himself just like Moder and MacAllister having to be a utility player in front of the defence. And thatís because the Albion really donít have any fit full backs.

    While many rue the missed chances and poor return of actual goals compared to XG and blither on endlessly about the need for a 20 goal a season striker (note, at our budget this does not exist) the biggest risk for the Albion for me is the combination of White and Lamptey missing on the right hand side. One offered terrifying pace, the other quick transition. Furthermore, White allowed Veltman to do an excellent job filling in for Lamptey when the latter was injured. Now we have a choice of moving Veltman to where White played and using either (presumably) Karbownik or one of the midfield as a right wing back, or having to go back to the back four of two seasons ago, a whole season of back three thrown away.

    On the other side things are not much better. We are a Solly March injury from being in exactly the same position over there. Yes, thereís Burn but he currently has an injury which has a difficult recovery time to predict.

    So, while the usual striker threads remain on NSC, surely we have to sign a full back or wing back of some description?

    The striker situation seems more complex. We have plenty of them, itís just whether we feel they are the right players or not. In terms of ďattacking optionsĒ rather than pure number nines we have Maupay, Connolly, Andone, Welbeck, Trossard, Zeqiri, Tau and (presumably) Locadia. Thatís more than enough cover, numbers wise. Itís a simple argument now over quality. Can we bring in better (never guaranteed) and offload one or two from the wage bill in return (also never guaranteed)?

    There are always surprises in any Premier League transfer window. The question is will the Albion spring one or are we done?

    Graham Potter

    Starting a third Premier League season is often make or break for coaches or managers but I doubt thatís the case here. A long contract and the backing of Bloom and the majority of the fans should give Potter a nice feeling of job security. While there have been many occasions where I, personally, have doubted his ability to take the Albion to the next level, Iíve never doubted that heís Bloomís man and part of the long term plans, itís just a case of when does that turn into more consistent results.

    For me, it was going to be this season for sure. Watching football on television, as weíve had to, is not only unfulfilling, but it rarely gives you the full picture. You tend to focus on the ball and on highlights in the match. But then I got lucky in the Man City ballot and was able to pick up tickets for that game very centrally in the East Upper with a great tactical view of the whole pitch. And then I got it. We were incredible in that game, even after going behind so early and the energy from Potter and the others on the bench, that is never apparent on the TV, culminated in that wonderful Dan Burn goal and the Amex going loopy for the first time in a long while.

    There were some lovely tactical moments, particularly overloading City down our left when itís normally City who specialise in overloads. The man had won me back over and my Albion mojo was at its highest for a long, long time.

    Heís not really done anything since to change my opinion, for now I am Potter In and looking forward to seeing what he can pull off in front of a packed and noisy Amex Stadium.

    But we also have to judge Potterís results against the squad quality. Only two things are really certain Ė that going a long period, such as a calendar year, with a single home win will not be acceptable now there are crowds back, but that a couple of similar performances to City will have a noisy and positive Amex roaring the team to overachievement. If we have to operate with a weakened defence for much of the season the truth may well be somewhere in between.

    The Other Teams

    We only have to have three teams worse than us to stay up. That, again, is a statement Iíve seen taken to bits on NSC. However, word it slightly differently and it becomes obvious. However much we progress, however much we strengthen, however good our tactics are, if there are nineteen other teams in the league who are better at all those things than us, then weíre finishing bottom. Progress is relative and the strength of the league changes each season.

    This is the other area where you need a full window to complete before you can assess. On the face of it Norwich and Watford know the ropes, Brentford have a very similar model to us and Palace are taking a chance with a totally new squad and manager. The window has been quiet for other teams too but some, notably Villa, have got their business done early. At this stage the league feels stronger than a lockdown and Covid ravaged one last season where, after a shaky start, City completely dominated and Sheffield United stank out the league.

    Prediction(s)

    Earlier this week I posted a predicted final table using a tool on the BBC and had us down as 14th. This is somewhat of a compromise position and, as writing is less prescriptive than having to fill in a number in a table Iím going to offer up two predictions.

    Should the squad stay the same at the end of the transfer window Iíll go for 17th. Whatís more, if that was achieved, Potter will have done a good job. The one thing that could change this and make it look foolish is a breakout season from a youngster of our own. At the time of writing, though, only Taylor Richards was given any significant time against Getafe, impressing in an eleven minute cameo. The likes of Alzate and Sanchez should now be considered full on squad members.

    If, on the other hand, we bring in the players we need then I can see us comfortably exceeding last seasonís finish and points. 14th may even be underachieving. The BBC table prediction I posted feels like a reasonable ambition if at least one more player comes in.

    Letís see.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Goldstone1976's Avatar
      Goldstone1976 -
      Not much Iíd disagree with here.

      Nice work :thumbs up:
    1. Machiavelli's Avatar
      Machiavelli -
      Good assessment. Totally agree about full/wing backs. It's almost looking as though we need one on either side, especially as it seems GP doesn't think Karbownik is ready yet. That said, a replacement LB/LWB looks the higher priority to me.
      I think we might play a back four a bit more this season, but a back three/five will feature regularly. With Ostigard gone, as CBs we have Burn, Dunk, Duffy, Veltman and Webster. In the absence of Lamptey, both Veltman and, at a push, Webster can fill in at RB/RWB. Of the midfielders, all of Gross, Mwepu, Moder and Alzate can probably play RB/RWB, although it's far from ideal, however ...
      ... We're clearly overloaded with talented midfielders and fitting them all in is the key conundrum. It's difficult to identify which are going to shine the brightest, but if I had to go for one, it'd be Moder, who ust seems to have so much to his game.
      You're spot on about forwards, we really need to ship a fair few out, and that's almost the highest priority. Locadia will be difficult to shift and we might have to bite the bullet, I've never expected much from Tau and the noises are more encouraging about an exit. Maupay, Welbeck, Trossard (if he's a forward) and probably Andone are the ones that we need to keep. Connolly needs to find a way to grow up and recognise that he needs to fulfil his talent on the pitch, and keep the headlines off it -- a Championship loan seems the best bet for him. I quite like Zeqiri but, if we get a new striker, then a Championship loan would suit him too.

      I've gone for a 13th finish, and could even go a few places higher. I've also made my views on Potter, Ashworth, Winstanley et al pretty clear. I expect we'll get two quality signings (a LB/LWB and a striker/wide forward) in before the window closes -- there will be multiple quality availability especially as the window's closure draws nearer.
      In terms of competition, I have Norwich, Watford and Southampton in the relegation zone. Brentford ought to survive, but I think we'll finish above them, as we will with Palace, who are vulnerable this season especially (getting rid of Cahill was daft) with a huge shake-up to negotiate. I can see us finishing above Wolves too. Burnley are in trouble, but I think they'll go down next season rather than this (Dyche's contract has one year left, ditto Tarkowski). For some reason, I have Newcastle finishing 12th -- St Maximin, Wilson, Willock, Almiron and defensive solidity has swung that for me.

      I have little doubt that I'll be badly wrong on several things though.
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