Brighton & Hove Albion have given themselves the platform midway by way of the season to problem for a European place for the primary time of their historical past.
Fulham, Burnley, Southampton, Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Ham United and Leicester Metropolis have certified for European soccer over the previous 14 seasons by way of their place within the Premier League.
Brighton have a possibility underneath Roberto De Zerbi so as to add their identify to that listing of golf equipment of comparable stature after Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Leicester prolonged their unbeaten away run in all competitions to seven matches since shedding at Manchester Metropolis in October.
This can be a season like no different. The World Cup has skewed the fixtures — by the top of January, Brighton would usually be deeper into the marketing campaign than 19 video games performed.
De Zerbi has solely been in cost for 13 of these since succeeding Graham Potter in September. There is a good probability that, because the gamers turn out to be extra accustomed to the Italian’s taking part in model, they’ll get even higher within the second half of the season.
Particularly as the likelihood stays to strengthen the squad additional this month after signing 18-year-old Argentine Facundo Buonanotte.
The purpose secured at Leicester by Evan Ferguson, one other 18-year-old with a giant future, eased Brighton as much as sixth within the desk, dividing Tottenham and Fulham who meet on Monday night.
De Zerbi was bullish with good motive after Ferguson, a second-half substitute, expertly positioned a header in off the far submit within the 88th minute to earn a draw from a recreation Brighton actually ought to have gained.
“The second objective was crucial, a sign for us for the second a part of the season,” De Zerbi stated.
“We are able to combat for a excessive place. To reach, I do not know, nevertheless it’s clear that we’re a superb workforce, we consider in ourselves and we’re sturdy.”
Brighton proceed to defy logic with their development. They’ve reached the midway level with 31 factors after 19 video games. Their report on the street is especially spectacular — they lead the league for away targets (21) and solely league leaders Arsenal (25) have gained extra away factors than Brighton’s 17.
They’ve 4 factors greater than on the corresponding stage final season, when Alexis Mac Allister struck twice in a 3-2 win at Everton that lifted Potter’s workforce to eighth on their solution to ending ninth.
5 of the starters that day have been bought for a mixed complete of greater than £140million ($173.5m), together with Dan Burn (to Newcastle United), the opposite goalscorer.
Marc Cucurella (Chelsea), Yves Bissouma (Tottenham) and Neal Maupay (Everton) have all moved on, together with Leandro Trossard, who was bought to Arsenal on Friday for £27million.
In October, Enock Mwepu, one other of the starters at Everton a yr in the past, was compelled to retire with a coronary heart situation on the age of 24 earlier than he might kick a ball underneath De Zerbi.
In complete, solely three of the gamers who began that recreation in opposition to Everton (Robert Sanchez, Mac Allister and Adam Lallana) began Saturday’s match in opposition to Leicester.
In addition to shedding gamers, shedding Potter and a giant chunk of his backroom workers to Chelsea 4 months in the past might simply have disturbed Brighton’s upward momentum, however they proceed to blossom.
Brighton’s tally of 19 targets of their final six video games is exceptional and Ferguson’s impression from the bench to attain his third objective in 4 league appearances, supplemented by two assists, reveals there’s depth to Brighton’s problem.
It isn’t all hunky dory. De Zerbi’s entertainers are leaking too many targets. They’ve solely saved one clear sheet within the league since mid-October, though the 2 targets they conceded at Leicester had been barely unlucky.
Joel Veltman — launched for the injured Adam Lallana in a reshuffle after Kaoru Mitoma’s very good objective — and Lewis Dunk each made blocks earlier than the ball fell kindly for substitute Marc Albrighton to equalize when Brighton regarded comfortably in charge of the competition.
Luke Thomas’s flick-on from a nook took a faint deflection off Solly March for Harvey Barnes to place Leicester in entrance. Barnes reacted faster on the far submit than 22-year-old Dutchman Jan Paul van Hecke, who in any other case was completed at centre-back on his first league begin within the absence of the injured Levi Colwill.
It was annoying as nicely within the closing phases when Mac Allister collected a late reserving for a foul on James Maddison within the cut-off recreation for 5 bookings to depend as a ban. Argentina’s World Cup winner is now suspended for Bournemouth’s go to subsequent month.
4 of Brighton’s subsequent six Premier League matches are in opposition to groups, like Leicester, within the present backside 9. On the face of it, that represents a possibility to boost the European ambition, though they have an inclination to labor extra in breaking down sides defending in a low block.
The league isn’t the one avenue to Europe. Brighton tousled within the Carabao Cup, shedding on penalties away to League One aspect Charlton Athletic within the last-16 in December, however they host Liverpool on Sunday within the fourth spherical of the FA Cup, 15 days after routing Jurgen Klopp’s aspect 3- 0 within the league at Amex Stadium.
In Might 2021, after Brighton completed sixteenth in Potter’s second season in cost, owner-chairman Tony Bloom was requested whether or not European soccer is possible to accompany the long-term imaginative and prescient of turning into a longtime prime ten membership.
“If being prime 10 is real looking, so is stepping into Europe,” Bloom stated. “The primary yr we’re in Europe would maintain large pleasure for our fanbase, myself included.”
Contemplating the progress Brighton have made since then, that dream is looming giant.
(High picture: Alex Dodd – CameraSport through Getty Photos)