With each passing day there is reason for excitement. On August 14, Brighton & Hove Albion will embark on a fresh crusade amongst England’s finest. The objective is clear: improve on last season’s 16th place finish.
This will be The Seagulls’ fifth instalment in the Premier League since their promotion from the Championship in 2017. Since that awe-inspiring April day win over Wigan Athletic that sent the AMEX into raptures, the Sussex side have maintained their top-flight status despite never finishing above 15th place.
That’s a little too close for comfort. Sweat falling, butterflies flapping, nerves shredded. It has not been an easy ride for your typical Brighton supporter but there is no need to fear just yet. With an ensuing chapter soon to follow for Graham Potter’s side, a shard of expectation and promise arises.
The window thus far
First, the addition. When Brighton unveiled the capture of Zambia’s Enock Mwepu, there were mixed emotions. The good news: Yes! An imperious presence in the midfield alongside Yves Bissouma. The bad news: oh wait, is this the end for Bissouma in blue and white?
Unlikely, as it turns out. The player market is wonderfully enigmatic. Indeed, it may well occur that Potter’s sinewy Malian departs the south coast but, for the time at least, he appears to be staying firmly put.
The loss of Bissouma would be detrimental to Brighton’s quest for improvement. He is the engine room: a cog in a machine that keeps everything (and everyone) in order. Remove him, and you remove your core. A midfield of Mwepu and Bissouma is far more threatening.
Life without White
And then there is Ben White. Sold to Arsenal for £50 million, the 23-year old centre-back has been attracting interest since his rise through the English pyramid whilst out on loan. Yes, that is a lot of money. And yes, that is a big loss to what was a steadily improving backline but this is far from the end of all civilisation as we know it.
Brighton will cope. There is talent oozing from the bench in Netherland’s international Joel Veltman, the man likely to succeed White. Leo Ostigard is another to watch too. The fledgling Norwegian was an integral component in stabilising a Coventry City side that was all too familiar to the sights of League One.
Although just 19 years of age, he could well find himself on the glistening AMEX turf on frequent occasion.
Mwepu and Lamptey with a point to prove
As the calendar flips to the month of August, acquiring the services of another high-profile signing such as that of Mwepu looks increasingly unlikely. Not that it is out of the question, but with the majority of cash having been splashed on the Zambian, a real sense of expectancy may rest on the midfielder’s shoulders.
For that reason, having the domineering combination of the Zambian and Malian in the middle would be significant. Mwepu is yet to taste Premier League football and, unsurprisingly, that can be a daunting task when asked to control the centre of the park. Together, they breathe renewed life into the spine of the side.
It is too an imperative season for Tariq Lamptey. Forced to miss the latter half of the previous campaign, the 20-year old’s time on the Sussex coast has been plagued by a myriad of injuries.
Unequivocally frustrating, the former Chelsea wing-back has been electric when on display. The future is crucial not purely for his own development, but to see if he can break free from the reoccurring minutes on the sidelines.
Brighton’s pre-season thus far has been fruitful. A strong Seagulls XI followed a goalless draw at Rangers with an impressive 3-1 victory over Luton Town at Kenilworth Road. Defensively solid, robust and fluid in midfield, clinical in attack. It was the first glimpse of a midfield starring Mwepu and Bissouma, with Adam Lallana and Jakub Moder also featuring.
It was a game for the first goal. Mwepu would be wheeling away in delight ten minutes from the interval as his fine first-time finish found the corner to double the lead after Aaron Connolly had propelled his side in front early on.
Next, it would be the turn of Percy Tau — South Africa’s hidden jewel — who recorded his first Albion goal with great aplomb following an elegant individual move.
A glance at the future
In the recent visit to Luton, Potter set his side up in a 4-4-2 formation that consisted of a midfield diamond. Bissouma sat at the bottom whilst Lallana was pushed further forward. Whether this foreshadows the setup for the opening day fixture with Burnley remains a mystery but, on review at least, it proved effective.
It is fewer than two weeks until the dawn of the new and there are pieces of the jigsaw still waiting to be found. The scarcity of goals from the attacking positions was a point of concern in the previous campaign as Danny Welbeck and Neal Maupay struggled for consistency.
The situation has yet to improve. Maupay remains the side’s main outlet in attack, whilst Welbeck, according to The Athletic, is set to miss the start due to a hamstring issue. The MailOnline report that Brighton have launched an offer for Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard, but there is nothing concrete.
There are few who fit the necessary bill but, if something is to be agreed, it will put The Seagulls in even greater stead for the season that lingers on the horizon.