There was much to like about Brighton & Hove Albion’s performance in their Premier League opener against Chelsea.
Frank Lampard has spent over £200m this summer and much of that has gone on attacking players. Yet despite that significant outlay, the Blues needed a terrible individual mistake from Steve Alzate and a very fortunate deflection off Adam Webster from Kurt Zouma’s shot to come away from the Amex with three points.
Even the most ardent of Chelsea fans would be hard-pressed to argue that their side deserved to win 3-1, which bodes well for the season ahead for Brighton. If they can go toe-to-toe with one of the title favourites in such a manner, then they should be confident of taking another step towards chairman Tony Bloom’s ambitious aims of becoming an established top 10 club.
Here are five things that we learned from Brighton’s opening game of the campaign.
It is the issue that refuses to go away for Brighton. The Seagulls have needed a striker all summer and the situation was only made more desperate by the decision to allow Glenn Murray to move on a season long loan to Watford, leaving Neal Maupay and Aaron Connolly as the only senior centre forwards at the Amex.
Graham Potter has tried to downplay the lack of new signing. The Brighton boss told a fans’ forum event recently that he was not convinced a “magical” centre forward would be the answer to the club’s problems.
Watching Brighton take on Chelsea, it was hard to agree with Potter’s assessment. The Seagulls created chances; what they lacked was a clinical finisher to put them away.
Two misses were particularly galling as Lewis Dunk put a free header wide from five yards out after a Leandro Trossard cross and Neal Maupay failed to even get his head on a delicious delivery from Tariq Lamptey, instead shouldering the ball out for a goal kick.
Imagine what a centre forward who can head a ball could do with opportunities like that. Brighton must find one before the transfer window closes.
Since Lamptey made his Brighton debut away at Leicester City in June, Seagulls supporters have known they have a star on their hands. Chelsea needed no introduction to his talents either, given that they were the club who raised him through their academy.
Lampard was loathe to lose the teenage right back in January but with Lamptey refusing to sign a new deal in favour of seeking first team football, Chelsea’s hand was forced into a sale to avoid seeing the player walk away for nothing this summer.
Brighton took full advantage, picking Lamptey up for just £4m. He gave Marcos Alonso a torrid time at the Amex, claimed an assist for Trossard’s goal and would have had another if Maupay used his head rather than his shoulder.
England are blessed for right backs but if Lamptey carries on like this, he could be a dark horse for a spot in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for Euro 2020 next summer. A star is being born on the south coast.
Unless you have been living under rock for the past year, you will have heard of Ben White. The young Brighton defender spent last season on loan in the Championship with Leeds United, winning Young Player of the Year at Elland Road and earning rave reviews along the way.
Every big club in the country has been linked with White as a result of that form. Brighton have made it very clear he is not for sale, turning down three bids from Leeds before White penned a new long-term contract at the Amex.
Despite all the hype, there is a noticeable step up in class from Championship to Premier League.
Last summer, Brighton paid £18m to sign Adam Webster from Bristol City. Webster was considered one of the best centre backs in the second tier in 2018/19 and yet it took him three quarters of the 2019/20 season to look comfortable in the top division.
Whisper it quietly, but some were wondering whether White would suffer similar teething trouble. Facing Chelsea’s array of attacking talent was one of the hardest tests he could have asked for on his Premier League debut.
The good news for Brighton is that White took to the task of dealing with Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and the rest like a duck to water. One sliding block on a Werner shot in the second half was the sort of intervention that if Virgil van Dijk makes, gets replayed on Sky Sports News for the next fortnight.
White got injured in making that block and Brighton will be hoping it is nothing serious. He looks a player who is ready to thrive in the Premier League.
The future of Solly March has been the subject of intense speculation this summer, with Newcastle United and West Ham United among those interested in his services.
Throughout his Brighton career, March has blown hot and cold; capable one week of ruining an opposition full backs weekend before looking so out of place the next that he resembles someone who has won a competition to be a Premier League footballer for the day.
With Potter having a phobia of out-and-out wingers, it was difficult to see where March fitted in for much of last season. That helped fan the flames of those departure rumours – if there was no place for March in Potterball, Brighton may as well cash in.
White’s return from Leeds might have changed all that. To fit White, Webster and Lewis Dunk into the same team, Potter has switched to a system using a back three and wing backs. Suddenly, March has a chance to reinvent himself as a left wing back.
His best football last season came on the occasions early in the campaign when Potter used 3-4-3. A lively showing against Chelsea strengthened the feeling that he can make the left wing back position his own, especially as his only competition comes from Bernardo – who Potter does not seem to rate for some reason – and Dan Burn who is very much a centre back despite his strong showings as a traditional left back in 2019/20.
Selling March in this transfer window would be a hasty decision made at a time when he might have finally found a place in Potter’s starting XI.
One interesting inclusion in Brighton’s squad numbers for 2020/21 – revealed before the Chelsea game – was the name of Florin Andone, who has surprisingly been handed the number 21 for the season.
The controversial Romanian striker was last seen in a Seagulls shirt picking up a straight red card for attempting to break the leg of Southampton’s Yan Valery after just half an hour of the Saints’ 2-0 win at the Amex last August.
Andone was subsequently loaned to Galatasaray. He then appeared to burn all his bridges with Brighton, saying in an interview that he hoped to never play for the Seagulls again because of the way he had been treated.
Two serious knee injuries in the space of seven months during his time in Turkey have seen Andone return to the Amex. The fact that Potter has now given him a first team squad number may indicate that Andone is going to be given the chance to launch the most unlikely of comebacks.
Whilst he would swell Potter’s attacking options, Andone is another striker in the mould of Maupay and Connolly and so does not solve the lack of variety in Brighton’s strike force.
There would also be questions about how often he is available. Every time he looked like he was going to get a run in the team in the 2018/19 campaign, he either got injured or picked up a stupid ban. Andone missed six Brighton games through suspension before his spell in Turkey – as many as the number of goals he scored.
He will need to cool his temperament significantly if he is to return. Giving him a squad number shows that Potter has not completely written him off yet.