Tactics Explained: Graham Potter’s Brighton

Brighton have started the Premier League season
well under former Östersund and Swansea manager Graham Potter. Potter, of course, has previous
Premier League experience, albeit limited: he played a small number of games for Southampton
in 1996/97, including a sub appearance in the famous 6-3 win over Manchester United.
His playing career never really hit the heights, but Potter is quickly making a name for himself
in management, implementing a style at Brighton that is in many ways a radical departure from
his talented, but pragmatic, predecessor Chris Hughton. Potter’s team have used a number of formations
this season and, indeed, system flexibility is one of his hallmarks. The narrow 4-4-2
and a 3-4-3 with wing backs have been the most common systems, but Potter has also used
a 3-5-2 with variants. Within these systems, though, there are several
key tenets that Potter sticks to. Firstly, and an area of continuity from Hughton’s
set-up, Brighton press with their forwards but tend to otherwise construct an organised,
compact mid and low block. The strikers hassle and harry the opposition to try to force long
balls, which can then be intercepted or won aerially – if the opposition do play through
the initial press, then they meet a rigid two banks or four or banks of four and five,
with the midfield line moving across the pitch to generate central numerical supremacy. Brighton’s other major feature under Potter
is the desire to build from the back. In Mat Ryan, they have a keeper who is very good
with the ball at his feet and in Lewis Dunk, Adam Webster, and Dan Burn, they have defenders
who can pass or carry the ball well. Brighton like to use Dunk as a kind of sweeper when
playing with three defenders, but in either formation the principles are the same – to
create numerical superiority in low positions on the pitch to allow Brighton to play past
high pressing sides. In transition, Brighton will either play quite
long, again using the strong passing skills at the back and the movement and aggressive
running of forwards like Neil Maupay, or build using short passes through the centre and
using the wide areas – this form of possession-based football is far from ponderous though, and
both of Brighton’s methods rely on quick passing and dynamic running off the ball. A key area is the right half space, where
Pascal Gross, consistently the most creative and able player under Hughton, is again important.
Brighton look to play Gross into space in this area, either with progressive passes
from the back or quick interchanges through central midfielders Dale Stephens and Davy
Propper. Gross can then act as a pivot for an attack through the wide area, shifting
the ball wide for an overlapping run by Martin Montoya, or shifting the angle back inside
to look for runs from Maupay or Aaron Connolly, both of whom exhibit excellent running off
the ball to isolate or drag centre backs from their positions. On the left hand side, Potter uses Dan Burn
either as a left-sided centre back with licence to carry the ball forwards in a three man
back line, or as a left back in a four man back line. Burn’s versatility in this role is crucial
for Brighton, as it means they can comfortably switch between formations, with Solly March
or the versatile Steven Alzate playing as a left wing-back. As a left-sided centre back
Burn can carry to break to the press, pop little passes out to the wing back and maintain
his run, or play passes infield before becoming a deeper wide option to receive the ball back. And in a 4-4-2, Potter likes the wide midfielders
like Leandro Trossart or Aaron Mooy to play fairly narrowly to create overloads in central
areas and facilitate passing through the opposition, so Burn’s ability to overlap is key – again,
though, the intention is the creation of little diamond-shaped passing options so that Brighton
can progress the ball at speed while retaining possession. Potter is lucky to have a player
with Burn’s versatility in this regard, but he’s also making the most of him. The clearest indication of Brighton’s shifting
styles is the eye-test, but the numbers stack up too. Last season, Brighton’s xG per 90
was the second lowest in the league, at 0.94 – this season they sit at 1.27 after 12
games played. Indeed, in every metric so far this season
Brighton have shown improvement. You can see how they are keeping the ball more, passing
more, making more attacking passes and from better areas, and shooting more, all without
allowing more shots against. Potter’s coaching philosophy of tactical
adaptability, keeping possession and moving the ball quickly, and intelligent positioning
on the pitch has been added to Brighton’s existing ability under Hughton to defend in
a good shape, but with some more pressing added. It’s a solid mix which has seen players
like Burn, Dunk, and Maupuy shine and Potter enhance his reputation still further.

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