Brighton host Watford in a relegation crunch clash at the Amex Stadium on Saturday evening, as both sides look to arrest an alarming run of form.
Brighton recovered from being two goals down to come away from West Ham with a point on Saturday in a 3-3 draw, and whilst creating chances is not a problem for Graham Potter’s side, they are leaking goals at the back, and this is an alarming situation for the Seagulls.
Nigel Pearson’s side were on the other end of a two-goal come back as Everton roared back from 2-0 down to beat Watford 3-2, with Theo Walcott’s late winner coming despite the Toffees being reduced to ten men. Languishing down in 19th, Pearson knows the importance of the game to avoid his side becoming cut adrift, and the crucial nature for both sides could see a tentative affair, as both sides look to avoid being embroiled deeply in a relegation battle.
Second guessing Graham Potter’s tactical set up, along with the personal he opts to select, is often problematic when it comes to unpicking Brighton. Throughout the course of the season, he has shown a willingness to adapt to both a back three and four, as well as vary the make up of his attack, and the trip to the London City Stadium saw him experiment once again, this time making the surprise decision to line up with Glenn Murray up top, as they looked to put an end to their goalscoring woes that plagued them at Bournemouth.
Although it worked on the goalscoring front, netting three in the draw, including one from veteran Murray, they leaked goals at the back once again, and were fortunate with both their opener and second goal, with individual mistakes from West Ham’s backline aiding their hopes. However, racking up 18 shots and an expected goals (xG) of 1.95, Potter’s side did create a hatful of chances, and it will be interesting to see whether he opts for the same this weekend.
The shape of the game will be particularly interesting, with the game plans of both sides playing to one another’s strengths, and it could make for an open, lively affair. Brighton look to dominate possession under Potter, with 54.2% on average in games this season, and they look to build from the back with the centre backs encouraged to play out, with Lewis Dunk topping the passing charts with an average of just under 70 passes per game attempted. Alongside him is expected to be Adam Webster, and although the pair are more than comfortable on the ball, the overplaying at the back has also been their downfall in a handful of games this season, and it will be interesting to see whether Watford decide to press or sit off, with their attacking threat well suited to both.
They themselves have averaged 44.8% possession this season, and Pearson has been more than happy to set his side up to sit off and defend, looking to exploit the likes of Ismaila Sarr and Gerard Deulofeu on the break, and it is once again something Brighton have shown vulnerability to this season. However, Brighton may look to try and draw in the Watford press, before hitting long balls over the top for the movement of Neal Maupay, if preferred up front, and with Craig Cathcart at centre back and Adrian Mariappa at full back lacking pace, the movement of Brighton’s attackers into these channels if Watford press high is something to watch for.
Whether playing five or four at the back, the full backs are expected to press high for Brighton, allowing these players to create the width, whilst the likes of Aaron Mooy and Pascal Gross drift centrally, in what is a fluid formation. The overloads and array of attacking options means its no surprise to see Brighton create plenty of chances, with an average of 13 shots per game and an xG of 34.93, but it leaves them particularly open at the back, and if losing the ball either in transition, or allowing the counter attack to develop, they are often caught out.
Their loss to Bournemouth encapsulated this perfectly, whilst in contrast Watford’s goals against Everton, as well as their own win over Bournemouth, highlighted the threat that they will have to Brighton’s backline, and how Brighton adapt to this will be interesting to see. The high line Brighton can look to play when the ball is in the opposition’s final third will leave them vulnerable, and the battle between Troy Deeney and the Brighton centre halves will be particularly interesting.
Indicative of their approach play, in the defeat to Everton, Deeney was involved in 16 attacking aerial duels, and up against the imperious Dunk and Webster, he will have a battle on his hands to win the first ball, and stop himself becoming isolated up top. As part of Pearson’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the work of the wingers to support is crucial, as touched upon before, as well as the box to box talents of Abdoulaye Doucoure in behind the striker. Doucoure is thriving in the attacking midfield role under Pearson, and he will be key to the Hornet’s hopes this weekend, with Dale Stephens and Davy Propper potentially tasked with cleaning up the second balls from the long balls up to Deeney, so keeping the French midfielder quiet and stopping the link up play to Watford’s strikers and wingers will go a long way to giving Watford a chance.
In the centre of the pitch for Watford, Etienne Capoue’s battling nature will be crucial to keeping the creative talents of Pascal Gross quiet, and the xx midfielder has topped Brighton’s assists this season. His delivery from set pieces cannot be overlooked, and these are something both Brighton and Watford will look to target from one another.
Brighton have scored seven and conceded nine from dead ball situations this season, with Webster in particular their second top goalscorer with three, whilst Watford themselves have conceded eight from these scenarios, including a brace from Mina last weekend. Surprisingly, they have only netted once themselves from these situations, but they could look to expose a weakness of Brighton’s through these avenues, whilst the likes of Dunk and Webster will be keen to cause problems of Watford’s backline.
A difficult game to call, even more so when considering the form book isn’t quite agreeing with the underlying numbers of both sides, but where does that leave the betting for the game?
Although the shape that Graham Potter will opt to play is a particularly tough one to unpick, I do believe that regardless of this we will we see an open game, with both sides’ formations and tactics playing to the strengths of one another.
Although Sarr will be a miss for Watford on the break if injured, Roberto Pereya, Isaac Success and Ignacio Pussetto represent similar options, and with Brighton needing to stop the counter, which they are susceptible to as touched upon, the bookings market on these attacks appeals for cynical fouls. Kevin Friend is referee, and he has overseen 23 games this season dishing out 73 yellow cards, so leniency isn’t an issue. Priced at 2.00 (Bet365), Brighton to have over 1.5 cards takes appeal, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Watford accumulate a handful with Brighton’s tricky attackers and their own tough tackling midfielders.
Considering both sides are showing frailties at the back, whilst creating plenty of chances, both teams to score is appealing at 1.83 (Bet365). The underlying statistics behind this further reinforce this, with both having an xG and xGa of way above one per game. Although Brighton have often struggled to hit to kill off games, they look good value for at least one, and the creative talents at their disposal are hard to overlook.