26.4 per cent of Brighton’s shots have been on target this season – comfortably the poorest strike rate in the Premier League. It’s the statistic that illustrates why they will be relegated, if indeed they are.
Mark Viduka’s Leeds, Paolo Di Canio’s West Ham and the ill-fated Newcastle under Alan Shearer are among the teams typically referenced in ‘too good to go down’ discussions. Brighton’s lack of star names means they would likely avoid a place on this list of the damned, but as a whole, as a footballing team, they would arguably be the best ever to be relegated.
It of course relies on a specific definition of ‘good football’: ignoring their striking woes; focussing on their interplay before they reach the penalty area rather than what goes on in or just outside it.
In the second half against Southampton, the familiar fluidity emerged in fits and starts. Neal Maupay, Leandro Trossard and Adam Lallana are all beautifully comfortable in possession, weaving patterns together in front of the Southampton defence.
But the spaces they have opened up so frequently this season have so often ended in a wrong decision or a lack of composure when it matters most, as was the case with Pascal Gross’ weak effort in the first half. But when it all comes together – as it did as Trossard scored their vital winner at St Mary’s – it really is special.
A tactical tweak at half-time from Graham Potter saw Lallana drop deeper and Trossard, Maupay and Welbeck interchange positions in front of the former Saints captain.
From that deeper role, Lallana – on the half-turn – swivelled, looked up and slid the ball through for Welbeck, who laid the ball off first time into the path of Trossard joining him from deep. From what could be described as an unmissable position – but a similar one from which Trossard and the Brighton strikers have definitely missed plenty of chances this season – the Belgian finished emphatically past Fraser Forster.
It was actually one of few clear-cut chances Brighton created in the game and it was only the second time they’ve won this season with a lower xG than the team they’ve beaten. They’ve lost six times with a higher xG than the opposition, including defeats to Chelsea, Manchester United and the reverse fixture against Southampton.
Southampton (1.03) 1-2 (0.97) Brighton
— The xG Philosophy (@xGPhilosophy) March 14, 2021
Ralph Hasenhuttl will be disapppointed. Having gone behind early in the second half, his side didn’t put any significant pressure on the Brighton goal until the last five minutes or so. It was almost as though they didn’t quite realise the time, passing the ball pretty aimlessly with an alarming lack of imagination. Other than when James Ward-Prowse was over a free-kick or a corner, it didn’t really feel like Southampton had much of a plan as to how they would break through.
But it was a huge win for Graham Potter; a game which saw a welcome glitch in the Brighton narrative – having lost and drawn many they deserved to win, they won one without necessarily deserving to do so.