Watford's Opponents in Focus- Brighton and Hove Albion

Watford's Opponents in Focus- Brighton and Hove Albion

The return of the Premier League is fast approaching and Watford's first game sees them take on Brighton at Vicarage Road on Saturday 11th August (3pm kick off).

Sam Harris

Watford take on Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday afternoon at Vicarage Road in what is their opening Premier League game of the 2018/19 season.

The Seagulls acquitted themselves well in their first top-flight season for 34 years in 2017/18 staying up comfortably in 15th place when they were tipped by many to be relegated.

The Hornets finished just one point and one place above the sourthern outfit last term. With four draws in their five top-flight encounters, it promises to be a close encounter in Hertfordshire. What can Javi Gracia's side expect from the opposition?

Brighton's strengths are at the back

Their main strength and a massive part of their survival was their defence. Compromising regularly of goalkeeper Mat Ryan, right-back Bruno, centre-backs Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk, and left-back Markus Suttner - they only conceded 54 goals, keeping 10 clean sheets.

Another strength was their home form at the Amex which saw them only lose four of their nineteen games only conceding 25 goals. These home matches included their most notable wins of the campaign beating Arsenal 2-1 and Manchester United 1-0.

Pressure on Murray to score goals

Brighton's defence often kept them in games as they had a major problem throughout the season; they were not as good in the opposition penalty area. They netted only 34 times in 38 games with striker Glenn Murray finishing as their top scorer with 11 league goals. This was especially notable away from the Amex where they scored a lowly 10 goals in 19 games.

Obviously a glaring concern heading into the new season, Brighton acted swiftly by purchasing Florin Andone from Deportivo La Coruna, a striker who scored 18 goals in 69 appearances for the club, as well as bringing in Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh from AZ Alkmaar for what was described as a 'club-record' fee.

The overall away form was also a concern and prevented them from securing their safety earlier with only two wins, five draws and 12 losses. Could this trend continue at Vicarage Road this weekend?

Who have they brought in this summer?

The aforementioned Jahanbakhsh is the most eye-catching of the Seagull's close-season signings after starring in the 2018 World Cup for Iran. His arrival is met with high expectation after his 2017/18 campaign with AZ Alkmaar which saw him finish as the Eredivisie top scorer with 21 goals and 10 assists.

Opting to think outside the box in the transfer market also led to the arrivals of Yves Bissouma and Bernardo from RB Leipzig which gives Houghton some options in both midfield and at full-back. There was no star striker to ease the burden on Glenn Murray up top but Florin Andone and Percy Tau have been brought in.

A further notable incoming transfer was the arrival of goalkeeper Jason Steele from Sunderland. Steele is expected to provide back-up to first-choice 'keeper Mat Ryan who was one of Brighton's best performers last season. The 27-year-old played 18 games for the Black Cats as they suffered relegation from the Championship last season.

In terms of outgoings, the Seagulls have not lost any major players from their successful previous campaign and look to have a settled side albeit with further competition for places for this coming season. 

How will they line up?

Last season, the Seagulls regularly lined up in either a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 formation with attacking midfielder Pascal Gross playing either alongside or just behind Glenn Murray.

It seems likely they will continue in this vein for the upcoming season, using the same formation in their final pre-season match against Ligue 1 side Nantes.

The starting line-up was: Ryan; Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bernardo; Knockaert, Stephens, Propper, March; Gross; Murray. 

Three Brighton players to watch

Pascal Gross - Signed last summer from German side FC Ingolstadt, the mercurial attacking midfielder was one of Brighton's most important players last season.

He didn't take long to adapt to his new surroundings, scoring twice and setting up another in a 3-1 home victory against West Bromwich Albion. He finished his maiden campaign in England as the club's second top goalscorer with seven goals and the leading assist maker with eight. Due to his vital contribution in Brighton's survival, he was voted their Player of the Season.

Lewis Dunk - At the other end of the pitch, centre-back Lewis Dunk excelled in his first Premier League season. The 26-year-old has been with the Seagulls all his career and has seen their progress through leagues being a regular part of their defence since 2014.

His standing within the club saw him appointed vice-captain last season and led the team 15 times in Bruno's absence. He showed his commitment throughout the campaign by registering the second most blocks in the team (58) - only behind his centre-back partner Shane Duffy.

He scored his first top-flight goal for Albion in the memorable 2-1 home win over Arsenal and his overall contribution during the season was recognised when he was voted the club's Player's Player of the Season. 

Glenn Murray - Murray was a huge part of Albion's promotion to the top-flight scoring 23 goals in the 2016/17 campaign. He continued in a similar vein in the Premier League last season finishing as Brighton's top marksman with 12 league goals and a further three in cup competitions.

That was his best Premier League return in a season - he netted eight times in the top flight for Crystal Palace from 2013 to 2016. He will be looking to carry on his goalscoring from the previous campaign with new arrival Florin Andone and current strike partner Tomer Hemed providing competition for places.

Predicted XI

Ryan; Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Bernardo; Jahanbakhsh, Stephens, Propper, Knockaert; Gross; Murray.


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