The headline associated with Brighton and Hove Albion has been their lack of results, despite good performances. The crux of their positivity, amidst an underachieving start, has been their wing-backs. While Bayern Munich-linked Tariq Lamptey has merited praise from several journalists and analysts, Solly March has quietly made an argument for being the Seagulls’ best player thus far.
There is, surprisingly, little pre-existing analysis detailing the player profile of the 26-year-old. However, March has the attributes to succeed in his role as a wing-back this season. With 1.54 key passes and 5.53 dribbles per 90 this season, March resembles a playmaker from the wide left. Moreover, his decision-making and intuitive positioning illustrate why he’s been favoured by Graham Potter so far in this Premier League season.
In this scout report, we provide a tactical analysis that explores the strengths, weaknesses, and potential of March. Through a model performance against Manchester United, we explore how Brighton could optimise their tactics by increasing the length of their passes, particularly aimed at the interplay between their wing-backs.
The relevance of his tactical evolution
March has been overlooked by scouts and even Brighton fans in the past. In addition to being injured at key moments in the season, this is because he’s been quite inconsistent. Furthermore, he’s played in a variety of different positions. He played at right-wing in a 4-3-3, as well as left-wing in a 4-2-3-1 in previous seasons.
It may be argued that, on the one hand, he lacks the piercing pace and shooting to succeed as an out-and-out winger. On the other hand, he lacks the success rate for defensive duels required to succeed as a left-back. However, Potter’s tactical tweak to a 3-4-3 complements March’s skill set. With a front three to link up with upfront, and a back three to cover spaces at the back, March could apply his inherent understanding of the game to a degree we haven’t seen before.
The positional change might transform March into a tempo-dictating playmaker of sorts. Part of dictating the tempo involves being able to hold the ball and break lines through progressive dribbles. March’s dribbling, particularly in bursts of acceleration over short distances, permit him to beat his opponents.
In the above image, it is evident that March places in the upper echelons of dribbles, as well as dribbles completed per 90 among other full-backs and wing-backs in the Premier League. Furthermore, a relatively high percentage of his dribbles are converted into shots. This implies that his dribbles are aimed at a positive outcome.
Defensively, March’s output can be observed higher up the pitch. This can be visualised in the following image.
March’s positional awareness, in conjunction with Brighton’s pressing, underlines his importance in regards to how Potter expects Brighton to play. While his recoveries in the final third/90 can’t always be noticed, they are essential, as they tend to support many of Brighton’s positive actions on the pitch.
March places well above the average in the aforementioned metrics. This prompted us to explore the extent of the 26-year-old’s potential. If fit, he may be a foundational figure to accomplish Brighton’s objectives as the season progresses.
For a club lacking the resources of the “big six”, Brighton’s style of play is optimistic and expressive. Regardless of the opposition, they are constantly looking to pass it from the back and gradually progress it into the final third. The role of the wing-backs in their 3-4-3 this season is primarily to serve as lateral pivots. While on the ball, March’s average positioning is routinely on the halfway line.
In the above image, March triggers a forward pass rehearsed in the training ground. Neal Maupay makes a decoy run to lure his marker, with Aaron Connolly the intended receiver of the pass. Brighton’s front three tend to rotate often in order to create weaknesses for their opposition. On this occasion, March’s key pass results in a shot for the Seagulls.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka had a hard time dealing with March on the day. He was constantly conflicted between the rotation of Maupay and Connolly, in conjunction with March’s overlaps. As a result, the defender was either positioned too wide, or too narrow. In the following image, March’s patience, as well as awareness of his opponents’ positioning, is highlighted.
The above transition begins from Brighton’s right and therefore explains the relative positions of Manchester United’s defenders. Connolly’s central position prompts Wan-Bissaka to man-mark him. As a result, March’s positioning on the overlap is perfect, as his shot hits the post.
He manages to register five shots on the day – more than any other player on the pitch, due to his positional awareness. His one-on-one dribbling ability poses further questions to the opposition’s defence, who don’t want to get too close to him.
That his opponents were unable to solve the problem of March on the overlap led to him scoring from a similar position. It is noteworthy, then, that, on this occasion, there are several United players in the box. Moreover, the delivery is made by his counterpart Lamptey.
In essence, Lamptey and March made the pitch as wide as possible, making their cross-field balls difficult to defend against. This is reminiscent of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, who make the pitch bigger in order to open spaces for their inverted wingers on the underlap. While Brighton haven’t converted their chances due to a variety of reasons, the direct interplay between Lamptey and March is certainly a tactic they must use more often.
Off the ball
March’s defensive duties for Brighton are of a proactive nature. When the opposition passes the ball from the back, he often gets forward to eliminate passing lanes.
With his front three committed higher than normal, March signals Adam Lallana to press forward, in order to position himself for a counter-press. The coherent positioning of Brighton’s players denied United’s players the freedom to pass the ball in this possession chain.
Furthermore, when United break Brighton’s second line of defence, March’s contribution in their defensive third is quite relevant.
In a quick transition, the space between Dan Burn and March is exposed. March uses his pace to cover the lost 10 yards, and converts a one-on-one situation into a two-on-one situation, as illustrated in the following position.
The second phase of the sequence is more than putting the ball out of danger. March is able to recycle the ball with his head up after Burn’s tackle. This not only triggers a counter-attack but also maintains the high tempo that Brighton aim to maintain. March’s ball control enables him to set the tempo of the new possession on this occasion.
Highs and lows
March is an adept recycler of the ball. The following position sums up his balanced attributes, in conjunction with his contribution during transitions.
March is the nucleus of several key events here. After a failed set-piece, Tottenham’s counter-attack is thwarted by a sliding tackle by March. As the transition progresses, he beats Matt Doherty in a one-on-one, progressing the ball from a half-space to a position where he drives a ground cross in. Lamptey’s position on the far side enabled him to make the pitch bigger, driving in and ultimately scoring. Thus, March tends to be involved in the second or even third pass leading to a shot. His ability to recycle the ball in a transition certainly showcases his versatile abilities.
So how can March use his strengths in order to optimise his contribution to the team? While his profile resembles that of a jack of all trades, he is visibly lacking in his crossing range, as mapped in the following image.
The above illustration makes it clear that March’s overall cross success of 36.7% is underwhelming. While his xA relative to his cross success is noteworthy, through his ground crosses and cutbacks, he needs to particularly work on his long, breadth-covering crosses. A curling aerial cross from a left-footed wing-back is invaluable in modern football – and could potentially either elevate or stagnate March’s progress.
Working on longer cross-field passes could potentially be the key to getting the most out of the interplay between March and Lamptey. Creating lateral overloads in the opposition’s box should be an underachieving Brighton’s main weapon going forward.
All things considered, March’s performances at the start of the 2020/21 season will certainly yield attention from data analysts. Among his colleagues in other full-backs and wing-backs in the Premier League, March’s one goal and one assist have a total xG and xA of 0.9 and 1.53 respectively. This implies that, contrary to an overperformance, his positioning agrees with his output, and that more can be expected from him.
He ranks second for total shots, with eight. That’s 1.16 shots per 90. Moreover, he is fifth for shot assists, with 1.6. Normally, lateral players in the Premier League place highly in one of the two aforementioned metrics, due to specific roles. This underlines March’s balanced, supporting attributes.
Finally, in terms of his foundational attributes, March places fifth for dribbles per 90, as well as offensive duels per 90, with 5.53 and 9.6 respectively. This summarises his positive performances for Brighton so far. If March can continue probing, then he has the potential to increase his more tangible numbers, due to his goals and assists roughly coinciding with his xG and xA.
A combination of Brighton’s position in the food chain and an inconsistent career thus far has led to Solly March being ignored by the majority of analysts. However, considering Brighton’s negative results, March’s change of position has made him a bit of an output-merchant statistically.
In this tactical analysis, we elucidated the significance of his new position, a lateral pivot. Furthermore, we explained his significance in Brighton’s approach to defending, as well as moving forward. Finally, we argued that his partnership with Lamptey will be essential for Brighton to get a few wins under their belt.
A successful season from here on, migh merit a ton of media attention for March. Conversely, the opposite may imply that his abilities may be utilised elsewhere. If his output is consistent this season, then he may potentially be bought by a bigger club as a squad player for a reasonable transfer fee.