Four things
we learned from Brighton’s comeback win against Bournemouth
Kaoru Mitoma was the difference-maker at the Amex Stadium, taking his goal tally to three for the season. (Photo by Eddie Keogh/Getty Images)

Brighton responded to their midweek Europa League defeat and an early goal from Bournemouth’s Dominic Solanke to come out 3-1 victors in their latest Premier League contest.

The win extends Brighton’s fine start to the domestic campaign to five wins from six games, putting them just three points behind leaders Manchester City at this stage.

It could have been a very different story had Milos Kerkez not flicked in past his own goalkeeper Neto in first-half added time, however, and the Seagulls know they will have to perform better in coming games.

With both teams having learned more about their squads from the contest, there were some key takeaways, including an encouraging take for the Seagulls’ European campaign.

  • Roberto De Zerbi is more than comfortable with rotation

For many fans present for the 3-2 defeat to AEK Athens in midweek, Brighton’s line-up had a few perplexing calls.

Joao Pedro played as the only striker, while Igor Julio surprisingly took the place of Lewis Dunk after a late injury to the Seagulls skipper.

However, for this match, there were nine changes and another mix of experience and youth.

The risk paid off, although it came with spells of frustration in the first half as Roberto De Zerbi’s side struggled to play their most incisive, fast-flowing football in front of the Amex Stadium crowd.

Defensively, the side did well, with Dunk returning alongside the widely-criticised Adam Webster, who put in an assured performance to remind fans of his value; a big boost considering another 20 games are approaching before New Year’s Eve.

Simon Adingra and Facundo Buonanotte followed their cameos against AEK with dangerous afternoons on each wing, with the latter’s return being particularly encouraging in his first start since May.

Markedly, though, the best performances of the afternoon came from the three players who exerted themselves the most against AEK; Pervis Estupinan, Billy Gilmour and Kaoru Mitoma.

It should be the case at this stage of the season that fitness levels remain high, but Brighton’s work on recovery looks one step above the rest; the facilities at the American Express Elite Football Performance Centre certainly paying dividends.

With 23 players having been used in the opening six games of the season, a figure that sits joint-second in the Premier League table of such statistics, De Zerbi’s focus on squad development is having real impacts, and that should be applauded.

  • Bournemouth are still a work in progress

Ever since the decision was made in the summer to part ways with Gary O’Neil, Bournemouth have known that their progress this season would be followed with intense scrutiny.

It would never be a popular move to dispense with a much-admired homegrown manager, and that is the environment the board, and their managerial choice of Andoni Iraola, have since had to operate in.

They recruited well, with attractive young talents such as Justin Kluivert, Max Aarons and Alex Scott joining up, and have adopted a more possession-based style when compared with last season.

Opening fixtures against a host of sides also interested in keeping the ball have seen them challenged in their quest to control games, however.

The only time they have managed more than 50% of possession, in fact, has been in their opening game against a counter-attacking West Ham.

With Iraola proving pragmatic in the other games, the introduction of new signings has been gradual, and though fans shouldn’t panic, results have been hard to come by.

An easier October is on the horizon, with games against Everton, Wolves and Burnley where the Cherries can show exactly what Iraola has been plotting at the training ground.

Based on what was on display at the Amex, with improvements such as having 38.5% of possession and dangerous late chances for Solanke and David Brooks, the Dorset side should be capable of securing their first win from those games and kicking on from there.

Danny Welbeck is a player who always makes things happen, but who suffers from his versatility.

Throughout his career, he has had managers who find difficulty nailing down his best role, with his pace and close control leading him to be shunted out to the wing at Manchester United and Arsenal.

The Mancunian now finds himself in a similar position at Brighton, with De Zerbi already attempting to play him alongside Evan Ferguson on two occasions this season.

Neither has worked, with their combination against West Ham stifled out by a deep-lying defence, and the two forwards having just one shot between them against the Cherries, presenting a dilemma for De Zerbi.

Does he cut his losses with Welbeck playing behind the striker, or does he persist with the approach?

History suggests the latter, considering successes moving Solly March, Tariq Lamptey and Pascal Gross into different roles, but if he can’t adapt, Welbeck may find his playing time reduced.

Ferguson has usurped him after first-choice striker and Joao Pedro can play both roles to a high standard, so further work is needed for a cult hero to retain his position.

  • Cherries must head the ball

For a team whose badge depicts club legend Dickie Dowsett heading the ball, you would think an aerial threat would always be present.

This season, however, Bournemouth have been desperately lacking in headers, with the story continuing at the Amex.

The only aerial duel the Cherries won all afternoon was from the burly Solanke, who has had so much joy in the air in the past, particularly during his 29-goal Championship season of 2021-22.

If one wanted to be damning, you could of course say there were two headers won; Kerkez flicking in from Billy Gilmour’s cross too.

Regardless, there was far too little aerial or set-piece threat from the Cherries, who could’ve piled further misery on Brighton if they focused on an area of weakness brutally exposed by AEK.

In Solanke, Philip Billing and Illya Zabarnyi, Iraola has three big targets to aim at from the dead ball, but they were far too infrequently used in Sussex.

Going ahead, that should change in terms of recruitment and tactics.

The Premier League is a testing division, and any such advantage the Cherries could get from areas of such fine margins could be crucial.

Address it now and the rewards should soon arrive.