Brighton have been a revelation in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 season. They were promoted from the Championship in the 2016/17 season and have stayed in the first division since. In their first season, Brighton finished in a respectable 15th place, seven points off the relegation zone. The next season (2018/19), they were much worse, finishing in 17th place, a mere two points off relegation. This meant that Christ Hughton, the defensive-minded manager, was sacked, and Graham Potter with his attacking tactics was brought in.
Potter’s side finished 15th in the following season, notably beating Arsenal 2-1 at The Amex. There was a rejuvenation from the side that were dangerous in their attacking football and played a much-more free-flowing style of football. Currently, in the 2020/21 season, Brighton have won one game in four, but have faced England’s best sides like Chelsea, Manchester United and Everton. Their game against the Red Devils was especially interesting as Brighton were dominating their opposition and drew attention to their attacking tactics.
In this scout report, we will look at how Brighton have been attacking and their team in the build-up. This tactical analysis will also look at how they have fared in the league compared to the other teams.
Above, we can see the formation that Brighton have used twice in the league so far against Everton and Newcastle. Brighton generally plays with a three-at-the-back formation, with variants such as 3-4-3, 3-4-2-1 and 3-5-2. The 3-4-3 used is seen above. Ben White, Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster are the ball-playing defenders that are good with their feet when on the ball. Ex-Chelsea man Tariq Lamptey plays at right wing-back while Solly March predominantly plays as the left wing-back. The two central midfielders are Bissouma and Alzate, where Alzate gets more licence to go forward and attack. Neal Maupay, Aaron Connolly and Leandro Trossard are the attacking forwards.
When Brighton shift into a 3-4-2-1 as they did against Manchester United, Maupay and Trossard drop behind Connolly more centrally and form a narrow front three. This means that they can play off each other well in a narrow passing triangle. The 3-5-2 is formed by dropping one of the attackers and getting an additional midfielder in to supplement the attack. Against Chelsea, Trossard and Maupay played in a two-striker partnership while Adam Lallana replaced Connolly.
The interesting part about Brighton’s attacking formation is that it is tailored to face each team. Generally, they try to play through the centre using Bissouma and Alzate as ball-carriers. We shall break down their attacking formation into phases so that the analysis can be digested more easily.
Phase 1: The back four
When referring to the back four here, we are not referring to the four-at-the-back formation. Instead, it involves the goalkeeper and the three centre-backs. Brighton prefer to build-up from the back, starting from the goalkeeper.
When Ryan receives the ball, the left and right centre-back move wider into the half-spaces to receive the ball and make passes. We can see that below:
Ryan is good at commanding his box and can go out to receive the ball. He receives 13.7 passes per game and makes 12 short forward passes. Above, the centre-backs move wide to the half-spaces to spread out the opposition’s press and open up passing lanes in the wide channels. This means that they can pass to the midfielders.
As a rule of thumb, there are two midfielders (generally Bissouma and Alzate) in front of the defenders to receive the ball. The two wing-backs generally drop to the same line as the midfielders to create wide passing lanes as well. The centre-backs now have two passing options: To the double-pivot in front of them or the wing-backs. We can see their passing options below:
Here, White, who is on the ball, has two attacking options that he can pass to: Lamptey and Bissouma. They form passing triangles to facilitate quick passes to progress the ball. Another form of the pass made by the defenders is to switch the ball to the wing-back on the other side (i.e left centre-back to right wing-back). This works against narrower teams in defence by creating overloads on the flanks with the wing-back and the winger.
This takes us to the next phase of the attack.
Phase 2: The midfield four
The midfield four consists of the double-pivot of Alzate and Bissouma and with March and Lamptey providing width. The double-pivot works with the two midfielders acting as ball receivers, especially from the centre-back. The midfielder closest to the ball generally drops back to get the ball while the other gets to the half-line. In the picture above, Bissouma drops near White to act as a passing option to progress the play. They generally look for runs of the forwards to feed in-behind the opposition defenders to their own attacker.
Bissouma especially has been a revelation this season, with the Malian 24-year-old making dangerous dribbles and passes into the box. He has added a new dimension of directness to Brighton’s build-up. The importance of the midfielders in the double-pivot cannot be understated as they facilitate ball progression to the forwards. Without them, the centre-backs might be struggling on the ball and Brighton might fall apart.
Another important function of the midfielders is their press resistance. Both midfielders in the double-pivot are comfortables on the ball, which aids them in turning past their opponents easily to create more clear-cut chances.
The wing-backs are the most important players in this part, however. As we previously mentioned, Brighton aim to create numerical superiority in the flanks, meaning that the wing-backs are important for that. In that image above in phase 1, we see Lamptey (in the bottom) stays as a passing option for the centre-backs to play quick passes with the midfielder in the double-pivot. This gets the ball into the final third. Past this, the wing-backs have two options that we can see below:
The first option is to pass down the wing to the attackers. This is generally used to spread the defenders wide. In this scenario, Luke Shaw, who has been poor in defending and positioning, is caught by Lamptey to let a pass by him. In this scenario, Trossard can get onto the ball and make a low cross into the box for Connolly. This method is generally not used frequently because Brighton prefer to attack narrowly with all three players in the box.
The other option is to switch the ball into the box for the attackers. When passing the ball, the wing-backs can cross inside to the opposite flank or play a through ball in their own side. Both March and Lamptey are good at crossing the ball, making 4.3 and 2.8 crosses per game respectively. The wing-backs are good at dribbling into the final third as well which ensures they get past the opposition defenders and into positions to create chances. When the wing-backs cross into the final third, it is the job of the attackers to finish, as we will see in the last phase below.
Phase 3: The Attackers
The front three that have been used frequently are Maupay, Trossard and Connolly. In the 3-4-2-1, 3-4-3 or 3-5-2, the attackers have been close to each other when attacking. Maupay especially has been integral to the build-up by connecting with the midfielders in the double-pivot. He drops back deeper than the other two attackers to collect the ball within the half-spaces. We can see this dialogue with the midfield below:
Yves Bissouma and Steven Alzate get the ball from Webster. Then, they progress the ball to the beginning of the final third together. Alzate is blocked by Doucoure and is forced to pass to Bissouma. Bissouma makes a splitting pass to Maupay, who drops back. Notice that Connolly and Trossard are slowly coming closer together in the background. This is to keep a narrow attack for reasons we shall see in some time.
Maupay plays a one-two with Bissouma to beat the two midfielders and puts him in a lot of space to make a pass.
Bissouma passes the ball to Solly March on the wing, while Maupay makes a run into the box. Here, March passes back to Bissouma which kills the momentum of the play. Bissouma is forced to pass back to the defender now. However, we can still identify what Brighton should have done and usually do in this situation.
Maupay was making a progressive run into the left half-space of the box. If March identified that run, Maupay could have played a pass into the box for Connolly or Trossard. While this is obviously hypothetical, it is important to understand this movement to see how Brighton attack when in possession.
While Brighton have been strong in attack as we have seen in this analysis, they seem to be facing problems as well. They have scored 1.18 goals compared to the league’s average of 1.53. Brighton generally switch up their formation frequently, but still have similar profiles when attacking or defending. However, when watching them play, only Tariq Lamptey and Yves Bissouma seem to have the talent to excel. This doesn’t mean that their players are mediocre. They fit in their team well and do as asked.
The problem arises when facing teams like Manchester City with stars in all of their positions. This can be improved mainly by investing more in better talent. Signing Joel Veltman from Ajax and Adam Lallana show a sign of ambition. If they can sign more and better players, they might be able to challenge for a consistent and comfortable top-half finish in the Premier League.