Watford vs Brighton & Hove Albion Preview: Will history repeat itself on opening weekend?
Photo by Getty Images/Alex Morton

Last season, Watford and Brighton & Hove Albion were chalk and cheese. The former made the FA Cup final, while the latter can consider themselves lucky to have survived in the Premier League — and it all started with a 2-0 win for the Hornets against the Seagulls at Vicarage Road.

Brighton had spent £80m on bringing in players from no less than ten leagues. Watford, in contrast, acquired Gerard Deulofeu, Ben Foster, Ken Sema and Domingos Quina for a combined £20m and made a net profit after the sale of Richarlison. The respective successes and failures of recruitment were quickly evident as the Hornets won the game comfortably.

However, the past is now the past — a new campaign is upon us and, after twelve months of progression at either club, this encounter could prove significantly different to the corresponding fixture a year ago.

Summer transfer business

The most notable change has taken place at Brighton's helm. Chris Hughton parted ways with  the Seagulls after five years in charge and was swiftly replaced by youthful manager Graham Potter, who gained notoriety during spells with FK Östersunds and Swansea City.

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Potter has boosted his squad with the signings of Leandro Trossard, Neal Maupay, Adam Webster and Aaron Mooy for a combined outlay of around £60m, but their best work must be considered their retention policy — most crucially of all, Lewis Dunk remains at the American Express Stadium and will play an integral part in any success for his side this season.

Watford had a relatively quiet transfer window up until this week, something fans of the club have become accustomed to in recent years. With the arrival of England International Danny Welbeck on a free and club-record signing Ismaïla Sarr from Stade Rennais, they were rewarded for their patience.

Those two join Craig Dawson as the three major additions to the Hornets squad. The centre-back signed from Championship outfit West Bromwich Albion for a reported £5.5m, and brings much-needed reliability and experience to a Hornets defence which struggled at times last season.

Javi Gracia has held on to Abdoulaye Doucouré, Deulofeu and Étienne Capoue — with  youngsters Quina, Adalberto Peñaranda and João Pedro all still to look forward to — and recent arrivals have only buoyed the yellow army further.

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Previous meetings

The Hornets strolled to victory in the aforementioned corresponding fixture last season, but could not break down the Seagulls in the reverse match at the AmEx.

In fact, it was Brighton that were arguably more deserving of a result from the match that ended in an eventual goalless draw, thanks especially to the heroics of Watford goalkeeper Foster who put in a stellar performance.

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Intriguingly, the away team has never scored in the four Premier League meetings between the two sides.

View from the dugout

Emulating the success off last season will be no walk in the park at Watford, but Gracia is optimistic that he and his side can deliver another good campaign.

"We try to keep the same good things we did last year and try to repeat it in the same way.

"Every season is different and you never know what is going to happen in the next games but our mentality is the same as we had last season."

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Meanwhile, Potter is eager to kick off the nine-month rollercoaster ride that awaits, but recognises that the Seagulls face a tough opening test.

"We're going to a well-organised outfit who play to their strengths very well; they were FA Cup finalists last season and were strong in the Premier League, so we're under no illusions about how difficult it will be.

"We need to be ready for that. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited, but it isn't about me. It's about us as a team and as a club trying to get off to a good start and show what we've been working on."

Team news

Deulofeu is fit to play after recovering a muscle problem, while Pereyra could play despite returning late to pre-season after involvement with Argentina at the Copa America.

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New signings Welbeck and Sarr will not play any part as they ease themselves back to fitness after injury and vacation respectively, but Dawson is available.

Watford will be playing calm and controlled football, moving through the playmakers in the middle of the pitch, whilst the wingers look to stretch the opposition's defence.

Brighton will have to make do without José Izquierdo, Ezequiel Schelotto and Yves Bissouma, who are all sidelined.

However, Potter could hand competitive debuts to new recruits Maupay, Webster, Trossard and Mooy as he prepares to equip his Seagulls side with a 3-4-3 formation.

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The opening day could see the 44-year old rely largely on youngsters, as per his policy at Östersunds and Swansea — expect goals, speed, and a bias to the left side of Brighton's attack.

Predicted XIs

Watford — Foster; Femenía, Dawson, Cathcart, Holebas; Doucouré, Capoue; Hughes, Sema; Deeney, Deulofeu.

Brighton & Hove Albion — Ryan; Webster, Dunk, Duffy; Montoya, Stephens, Pröpper, Bernardo; Trossard, Murray, Locadia.