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Season Preview: Can Brighton avoid sophomore slump?

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Brighton at a glance:

Premier League (and old First Division) titles: 0 (best finish: 15th, 2017/18)

FA Cups: 0 (best finish: 2nd, 1983)

League Cups: 0 (best finish: 4th round, twice)

FA Community Shield: 0

Top Four finishes: 0

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The glitz and glamor has worn off, the celebrations are over, the bright lights are no longer blinding. Brighton & Hove Albion is an established Premier League club.

The Seagulls navigated the club’s first-ever Premier League season with pragmatism, organization, and occasionally style, avoiding relegation by a somewhat comfortable seven points. Now, the goal becomes avoiding a sophomore slump.

Somewhat active in the transfer market this summer, manager Chris Hughton has the tall task of weighing new, higher expectations brought on by last season’s mild success with the reality of the situation: Brighton & Hove Albion’s goal is still to remain a Premier League competitor. Avoiding relegation is ultimately the goal, and like it was this past year, anything else is bonus. Still, having proven they can do the job once has undoubtedly added a little extra spice to the regularly scheduled dose of pressure, with supporters likely expecting not just Premier League safety, but also tangible improvement, something Hughton will have to handle.


Brighton will finish top ten because….their defense was stellar last season, and not only kept them up but kept them in almost every game. Brighton conceded 54 goals last season in 38 games, less than anyone else in the bottom half of the table. The team warded off suitors for Lewis Dunk, a decision which proved smart. His central defensive partner is a full international in Shane Duffy. Both are 25 years old. If they can use the new signings to bolster the attack effectively, this is a team that has the potential to make some noise.

Brighton will be relegated because…they simply can’t score. They scored just 34 goals last season, and were shut out a whopping 17 times. To fix this problem, Brighton has spent nearly $70 million this summer, but have gone with quantity over quality, not spending more than $22 million on any one player. That man was Iranian winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who has just one good season under his belt at AZ Alkmaar. They signed Jurgen Locadia back in January from PSV Eindhoven, and despite plenty of aplomb, he managed just a single goal. It’s a work in progress, but if the attack doesn’t improve, Brighton is in trouble.

Best possible XI:

———————Ryan———————

——Bernardo—Dunk—Duffy——Bruno——

—————Propper——Stephens——————

——Jahanbakhsh——Gross——Knockaert——

——————Murray——————

Transfers In: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar, $22.3 million), Yves Bissouma (Lille, $19.8 million), Bernardo (RB Leipzig, $11 million), Florin Andone (Deportivo la Coruna, $7 million), David Button (Fulham, $5.2 million), Percy Tau ($3.8 million).

Transfers Out: Sam Baldock (Reading, $4.6 million), Connor Goldson (Rangers, $3.9 million), Jamie Murphy (Rangers, $1.4 million), Jiri Skalak (Millwall, $937k), Tim Krul (Norwich, Free).

Ranking their offseason: C+

There’s still a lot to be determined here, most of which falls in the lap of Jahanbakhsh. If he can repeat last season with AZ Alkmaar, Brighton will have one of the best value buys of the entire summer. If he falls flat, there’s little else to provide this attack with any type of spark, leaving them toothless once again. Also, Bissouma is a midfield destroyer who could boost the team’s cover for the back line and begin moving possession forward, and if he performs well and earns a starting spot, Brighton will not just have one of the strong midfields of the lower-table sides, but also a great asset on their hands, with Bissouma at just 21 years old. The C+ grade comes with lots of question marks, but plenty of potential as well.


Pascal Gross is vital to this Brighton squad, and hopefully will have some of the weight lifted from his shoulders this season (Getty Images)

Star player: This is a loaded question, as nobody truly stands out on this squad at the moment. Jurgen Locadia was meant to be that star when he was brought in last winter, but has since fallen flat. He still has that chance, but the slow start has not been terribly endearing. Jahanbakhsh also has a shot to be the guy, but he’s making a significant step up in competition. At the moment, Brighton’s incumbent star is Pascal Gross, a midfielder who flew under the Premier League radar last season but scored seven goals and was often Brighton’s biggest threat moving forward, even starting as a pseudo-striker down the stretch of the season.

Coach’s Corner: Chris Hughton is potentially the Premier League’s most underrated managers. He finished 11th with a thin Norwich City squad back in 2012/13, although they limped to relegation the next. He has built a sustainable ship at Brighton, but this coming season will be critical to their long-term health. While managers like David Wagner and Sean Dyche are constantly praised for the performances they give at clubs of lesser stature, Hughton’s job at Brighton – a team that had never made the top flight before last season – is one that never gets the credit it deserves.

PST Predicts: Sophomore seasons for newly promoted clubs are ones even more impossible to predict than their first. After securing safety in the first season up, many fans expect marketable improvement over the previous campaign, adding pressure to the players and coaches. Nobody wants to fall back, but still the goal should be the same. As long as the team realizes the bar is still league safety, they will be ok. Any added pressure could cause the team to fall apart. We’ll say Brighton stays up, but barely, with a 17th placed finish. There are worse teams than this perusing the Premier League, and that should be enough to keep them afloa-.

FA Cup: Brighton beats Crystal Palace on Murray winner

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Glenn Murray played hero again as he claimed an 88th minute winner in a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup.

The 34-year-old came on in the 81st minute and scored just seven minutes later, claiming a slight touch off Uwe Hünemeier’s outstanding header to the far post. It’s the seventh goal for Murrah this season and fifth FA Cup goal in his career.

28-year-old Dale Stephens bagged his first goal of the season 25 minutes in to open the scoring as he touched brilliantly near the top of the box to skip by a defender and struck just under the armpit of Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey from a tight angle, a fully deserved lead for the Seagulls after holding nearly 70% of possession through the opening half-hour. It’s the first goal for Stephens in any competition for over a year, most recently finding the back of the net in Championship play against Blackburn Rovers last December.

Despite their possessional disadvantage, the Palace midfield continued to muck up the game, but the visitors to Falmer Stadium couldn’t manage a decent spell on the ball. After the break, however, the visitors looked more involved, and with 20 minutes to go Bakary Sakho brought Palace back level with a knuckler that bent away from a diving Tim Krul and into the back of the net.

The goal invigorated the visitors, and Sakho nearly had another from the same spot just minutes later, but he went for the near post and hit the side netting. Brighton, working with just two substitutions for much of the game due to an injury to Izzy Brown in just the sixth minute, still held a significant shot advantage and nearly went back in front down the other end as Hennessey saved a powerful effort by the substitute Sam Baldock, while Beram Kayal skied over the bar despite all day to shoot in the middle of the box. Baldock also launched over the bar on a one-on-one breakaway in the 82nd minute.

Brighton grabbed the winner with just two minutes until full-time as Hünemeier got his head to a free-kick, directing it perfectly to the inside of the far post. It likely would have gone in either way, but Murray charged it down to make sure the ball went in, and replays showed the ball grazed his knee on its way in.

Crystal Palace wouldn’t go down without a fight, as they pushed one more attack, but the hosts kept the ball out somehow as the final whistle went. With a way to the 4th round, Brighton will take on Middlesbrough at Riverside Stadium.

PL Sunday preview: New bosses battle; Brighton vs. Saints

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The battle of Leicester City and Everton’s newly installed managers is the highlights of Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures, but not before PL new boys Brighton & Hove Albion host Southampton in a south-coast derby.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City’s historic start; Man United, Arsenal win ]

Brighton vs. Southampton — 9:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

All three of this year’s newly promoted sides — Newcastle United, Brighton & Hove Albion and Huddersfield Town — entered the 10th weekend of the season as a top-12 side. On Sunday, it’s Brighton, who finished a close second to Newcastle in the Championship last season, who reunite an old rivalry with a fellow south-coast side, Southampton, at Falmer Stadium. Through sheer consistency, the Seagulls have established themselves as a functional top-flight side.

“What we have done over these nine games is we have been in every game,” Brighton boss Chris Hughton said this week. “Even the games against Manchester City and Arsenal, both games we have lost 2-0, but we were in the game. If there is any statement, it is that we should not be frightened of the challenges we have and I think we have got enough quality and desire in the squad to make a good account of ourselves in any games. Whether that wins you enough games, that is different. It is goals that win you games and at the moment we are doing OK.”

Saints, meanwhile, are still adjusting to life under new manager Mauricio Pellegrino, as they’ve won just one of their last four in the PL and the goals still aren’t coming. The lack of scoring is a trend that carried over from last season under Claude Puel, when Southampton scored just 41 times en route to an eighth-place finish. That lone victory came on their last outing, though, courtesy of Sofiane Boufal’s brilliant individual effort, so perhaps brighter days are indeed on the horizon.

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Steve Sidwell (back), Beram Kayal (fitness), Sam Baldock (fitness) | Southampton — OUT: Mario Lemina (ankle)

[ MORE: England top Spain, win U-17 World Cup ]

Leicester City vs. Everton — 12 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com

First went Craig Shakespeare on Oct. 17, followed in short order by Ronald Koeman six days later. Leicester and Everton, respectively, were second and third to fire a manager during the 2017-18 PL season (more than a month after Crystal Palace sent Frank De Boer packing), and now the two sides face off on Sunday. Former Saints boss Puel is the new man in charge at the King Power Stadium, site of Sunday’s clash, while David Unsworth hopes to impress Toffees owner Farhad Moshiri during game no. 1 of his trial run as interim manager.

After nine games played, both sides are nearer to the relegation zone than they would have imagined this season, as Leicester currently sit 15th, a point ahead of 18th-place Everton.

“It is not about me or any individual, it is about us as a team and club coming together and showing the fighting spirit and commitment we had throughout that 90 minutes,” Unsworth said this week. “Even at 2-0 we kept going and got the goal. You could see the work rate, spirit and commitment — that is what we are looking for. We can iron out issues and problems and it is a great start, something to really build and work on.”

Leicester were victorious in the fourth round of the EFL Cup, knocking of Championship side Leeds United 3-1 on Tuesday. 21-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho scored his first goal (to go with an assist) for the Foxes after arriving from Manchester City in the summer to give Puel something more to consider when he picks his first starting lineup on Sunday.

INJURIES: Leicester — OUT: Robert Huth (foot), Matty James (achilles) | Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Morgan Schneiderlin (illness)

PL Sunday preview: Unexpected battlers at the top, bottom

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Sunday’s slate of fixtures features a pair of relegation battlers as well as a pair of top-six chasers, only very few of the above happen to be who you thought they’d be at the start of the season…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City, Spurs win while everyone else drops points ]

Brighton & Hove Albion vs. Everton — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Of the four sides set for action on Sunday, only Brighton have started the season as many predicted: in 16th after seven games, just two points clear of the relegation zone. Of the other three, Newcastle United would have been the next most likely to be faced with a relegation battle, but alas it’s Everton who head into Falmer Stadium 17th in the PL table, one spot and four goals worse off than the newly promoted Seagulls.

After spending $200 million in the summer, the Toffees were supposed to be the ones bidding to break up the top-six hierarchy — not Newcastle, as is actually the case.

“I accept that everyone is entitled to his opinion and as a coach I don’t run away from criticism,” Everton boss Ronald Koeman said this week. “We know within Everton that we currently play under our level and that the results should be better. The moment I made the move from Southampton to a club with such ambitions, I knew I could be in a difficult situation if investments were not accompanied by results. I’m pretty calm with it.”

As for Brighton, things are slowly but surely turning around. Having scored just five goals through seven games, four of the five have come in their last two home games — 3-1 and 1-0 victories over West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle, respectively. Brighton boss Chris Hughton, for one, isn’t panicking.

“We could have had slightly more than seven points but we’re a new team coming into this division and we’ve already played Arsenal and Man City,” he said this week. “There’s not a sense of satisfaction at this moment because when you have competitive players, you don’t like losing. But there’s more positives to come from the game than negatives.”

INJURIES: Brighton — OUT: Tomer Hemed (suspension), Steve Sidewell (back), Beram Kayal (leg), Sam Baldock (calf); QUESTIONABLE: Davy Propper (thigh) | Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (hamstring), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), Yannick Bolasie (knee); RETURNING: James McCarthy (knee)

[ MORE: De Bruyne’s brilliance lauded | Klopp no fan of Mourinho’s style ]

Southampton vs. Newcastle United — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

A win at St. Mary’s Stadium on Sunday could see Newcastle climb as high as fifth in the league table, depending on the margin of victory (a run-of-the-mill five-goal win would do the trick). Rafa Benitez‘s side is undoubtedly one of the biggest stories of the still-young season, having lost their first two games following a tumultuous summer of transfer dealings, only to rebound with three straight wins and points from four of the following five games.

As for their opponents, back-to-back losses to Manchester United and Stoke City leave Southampton chasing three points just to climb back into the top half of the table. While Newcastle will have been disappointed for the recent international break to arrive when it did (their 1-1 draw with Liverpool two weeks ago put everyone on notice), it couldn’t have come at a better time for Saints. These kind of early-season struggles are to be expected, though, according to midfielder James Ward-Prowse.

“This season we have a new manager, a new style of play and a few new signings as well, which have had a positive impact on the team,” he said this week. “It’s a building process still for us all, but it’s a positive one in the making. After this two weeks, it’s a great chance for us to hit the ground running and take the league by storm now.”

INJURIES: Southampton — PROBABLE: Shane Long (hip) | Newcastle — OUT: Paul Dummett (hamstring); PROBABLE: Jonjo Shelvey (finger), Matthew Ritchie (thigh), Christian Atsu (knee)

PL Sunday preview: Liverpool, Arsenal face newly promoted sides

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A pair of Premier League big boys take on a pair of sides only just promoted from the Championship over the summer, while Everton host Burnley in the other of Sunday’s three PL fixtures…

[ MORE: PL roundup — Man City win at Chelsea; Kane gets 2 more ]

Arsenal vs. Brighton & Hove Albion — 7 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Away in Belarus for Europa League action on Thursday, back home in the PL on Sunday — that’s the not-so-simple reality for Arsenal this season, and it rears its ugly head again this week. The Gunners victory over BATE Borisov will have come less than 72 hours prior to taking on Chris Hughton‘s Brighton on Sunday. Further complicating matters, last week’s 2-0 win over West Bromwich Albion came on Monday, less than 72 hours prior to their 1,400-mile European excursion. As such, the majority of Arsene Wenger‘s first-choice starters were left in London, but the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker could be asked to pull double-duty given injury concerns along the three-man backline.

Brighton, meanwhile, will be without star striker Tomer Hemed, who on Wednesday was handed a three-match ban for his stamp on DeAndre Yedlin last weekend. Hemed maintains he did not intend the contact with Yedlin.

“I accept the decision against me but do not agree with it and I am devastated to miss three matches,” Hemed wrote on his Instagram account. “I would never go out and injure a fellow professional on purpose, and those of my friends and teammates who know me, know that this is not in my nature.”

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Mesut Ozil (knee), Danny Welbeck (groin), Santi Cazorla (achilles), Francis Coquelin (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Laurent Koscielny (achilles), Alex Iwobi (thigh) | Brighton — OUT: Tomer Hemed (suspension), Steve Sidwell (back), Sam Baldock (calf), Beram Kayal (leg); QUESTIONABLE: Glenn Murray (ankle)


Everton vs. Burnley — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Things are beginning to look up for Everton — maybe just a tad — as Ronald Koeman‘s side is unbeaten in its last three games (all competitions), with a winnable home date with Burnley on Sunday. While the likes of Wayne Rooney, Davy Klaassen and Gylfi Sigurdsson have largely faltered of late (just two PL goals between them — both Rooney’s — and zero assists), Oumar Niasse has stepped into the void and lent the Toffees three goals en route to a pair of wins last week, over Sunderland (League Cup) and Bournemouth (PL).

As for the Clarets, Sean Dyche‘s side is four games unbeaten in PL play (three draws) and up to ninth in the league table. Sunday’s clash at Goodison Park will be the first meeting between Burnley’s current players and former teammate Michael Keane, now at Everton, provided he’s passed fit to play.

“We all got on with Keano. He’s a great lad,” midfielder Jeff Hendrick said. “He’s been brilliant for the club here. It was his time to step on and challenge himself in a different way. He’s still young and he’s still improving. We all speak highly of him here and I’m sure they do at Everton as well. It will be good to play against him. He’s a good player but we want to get one over on him.”

INJURIES: Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (back), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), James McCarthy (knee), Yannick Bolasie (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Michael Keane (foot) | Burnley — OUT: Tom Heaton (shoulder), Nakhi Wells (ankle), Jonathan Walters (knee), Dean Marney (knee)


Newcastle United vs. Liverpool — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Rafa Benitez guided Liverpool to UEFA Champions League glory in 2005, a short dozen years ago now, an on Sunday welcomes his former club, and the many by whom he’s still so beloved, to St. James’ Park.

“He’s a very, very interesting person,” Jurgen Klopp said on Friday. “I know he’s still connected, not only because he lives around here still, he’s really connected to the club still, wishes the club all the best and all that stuff — it’s how it should be after this fantastic time he had here.”

The visitors enter Sunday’s game in frustratingly indifferent form, having won just one of their last five games (all competitions). During that stretch, the Reds have conceded 13 goals. Klopp is yet to figure out the perfect formula for consistent defending in the PL, as that very shakiness at the back ultimately ended Liverpool’s title bid last season. Klopp writes a bit of that off as bad luck.

“We in this moment are not the luckiest team in world football, so it’s not that things go easy for us,” he said this week. “We did enough and we had four or five 100-percent chances and that’s then disappointing but it is like it is.”

INJURIES: Newcastle — OUT: Paul Dummett (hamstring) | Liverpool — OUT: Adam Lallana (thigh), Nathaniel Clyne (hamstring)