We can’t afford to let our guard down against a side that is looking at a chance at qualifying for a European spot for the first time in its history. De Zerbi has his side playing positive, incisive football depsite being the anti-Chelsea, selling key players and replacing them astutely. Tottenham’s recent wobble can only intensify the Seagull’s hunger for climbing the table, and we’d do well to prepare for a scene out of Hitchcock rather than a cakewalk.
Brighton still boast of numerous players coveted by those above them, notably Moises Caicedo, Alexis, Mac Allister, and Kaoru Mitoma, to name just a few. However, to attribute the club’s success to individual talent overlooks the team effort and de Zerbi’s tactics.
Playing out from the back through Steele between the sticks and Dunk and Webster ahead of him, starting in a 4-2-3-1 that shifts to a 2-4-2-2 in possesion, the Seagulls look to move the ball quickly and crisply, unsettling opponents. Despite the surprise thrashing by Everton, they’d notched strong results against Man U, Wolves, and Chelsea in recent weeks.
Kaoru Mitoma has been one of the stories of the season, with his seven goals and four assists in 28 Premier League games catching the attention of everyone.Mitoma’s game is about much more than goals, with his trickery on the left allowing him to twist and turn defenders in the style of an old-school dribbler, while also possessing the vision to free his runners and the composure to link with Brighton’s midfield trio.
Much as Zinchenko will move up the pitch with his nominal position covered to some degree by Xhaka, Pervis Estupiñán loves to get up high, knowing that his position will be covered by none other than Caicedo, whom we tried without success to snatch back in January. Assuming that Kiwior gets the start after a strong showing against Newcastle, he and White will have to be alert to the threat from wide that Estupiñán presents. His interplay with Mitoma may remind us of the same between White and Saka, although Estupiñán tends to stay wide rather than cutting inside as much as White does.
To continue the comparison, Kaoro Mitoma’s game offers a passing resemblance to Saka’s or to Martinelli’s with his deft touch on the ball and ability to beat his man off the dribble or pick out a teammate. Seven goals and four assists since seizing a starting role from late October make a fine return on a player signed for less than £3m but who is now worth at least ten times that. Again, Kiwior and White will have to be alert—and we haven’t even gotten to Brighton’s best players
I speak of Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicdeo, two midfielders who have been vital to Brighton’s style of play and success. Look to Caicedo to do his level best to neutralise Ødegaard in the middle. He’s more than just a terrier who’ll hound (eh? eh?) our talisman, though; he’s proven to be adept at soaking up pressure, recycling possession, and threading a pass to find Mitoma, Ferguson, or Welbeck (among others).
Think of Mac Allister as a smarter, shrewder Aaron Ramsey. He displays excellent tactical awareness, and he’s quite good at detecting spaces and getting between the lines. He displays superb tactical awareness, detecting spaces and drifting wide (usually left) to create overloads and to drag rivals out of position. Although he’s Brighton’s top scorer, he’s an all-around threat who creates just as well as he finishes, and we’ll have our hands full trying to muzzle him. I do like an extended metaphor, don’t you?
On a larger level, for as much as we’ll have our hands full, Brighton may end up leaving themselves too open as they get high up the pitch, and we’d better be ready to exploit the space in behind. Neither Martinelli nor Saka has been credited with a goal in our last three matches, so I do suspect that one or both of them will be quite hungry by Sunday.
By the time we kick off, we’ll know whether or not Everton can be relied to do the right thing. However, results elsewhere are beyond our control, so we simply must do what we can to take all three points tomorrow, even if doing so offers Tottenham a glimmer of hope. With apologies to our visitors, I do hope we prove to be rude hosts…