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Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside, oh I do like to be beside the sea… Our first trip to the South Coast this season sees us face a Brighton side who have won their last two without conceding. Chris Hughton knows how to get the best out his players which was clear last year as he kept them up and once again this year, he seems to be on track to do the same. One thing that immediately jumped out when I was doing a bit of research for this game was Brighton’s possession stats. They haven’t had the majority of the ball in any Premier League game this season. We also tend to play on the counter, so something is going to have to give this afternoon.
As per, what we’ll do is take a look at our hosts for this afternoon and then look at Nuno’s decisions or non-decisions as it may be. One of the beauties of Nuno is that his tactical approach seldom changes so there’s never much to do when tactically previewing Wolves. After all, we know it’ll be a 3-4-3 formation, the wing-backs will be important to play, so on and so forth. Now, while I may joke about it being unpredictable, it’s perhaps that that has scuppered us over the last couple of games. Make no mistake, Watford did a job on Neves and Moutinho which meant we couldn’t play and they beat us. Palace almost did the same. So, that’s probably what Hughton will try and do, keep the two Portuguese midfielders quiet.
A Peculiar Danger Man
Having looked over Brighton’s last few games, one name keeps cropping up. A player that is involved in an awful lot of what they do. If you were to look at their squad, maybe you would pick out Glenn Murray or Jose Izquierdo amongst others. That’s not who I’ve gone for, though. I’ve gone for their left-back, Gaetan Bong. Just to be clear, I’m not saying that he’s their best player, not by a long shot. What I am saying, is that he’s an integral cog in Brighton’s system. Without him, they don’t really function. Case in point, Brighton’s pass maps from games against West Ham and Fulham at home.
I’ve selected Bong’s map on its own to illustrate how he links up with almost every other player on the pitch. Incidentally, this is from the West Ham game which was won by a Glenn Murray goal midway through the first half. His links with Propper and Jahanbakhsh rank in the top five Brighton links from the game, with the Dunk and Knockaert ones not trailing far behind. Now let’s take a view at the Fulham one.
A Regular Outlet For Ryan
Mathew Ryan used Gaetan Bong five times in the game against Fulham as the Cameroonian was yet again very busy on the ball. Although the majority of the balls that he plays are only short passes to either Solly March or Lewis Dunk on this occasion, he is still getting the ball to play out with it. As you can see, Dunk played the ball to Bong eight times in this match, so not only is he a regular outlet for Ryan in goal, Dunk also likes to play the simple pass to his left-back.
What this means is if we can keep Costa, Cavaleiro or whoever plays on the right-hand side pushed up close to Bong, it will restrict the way can Brighton can play. If we cut off the route to Bong, they will have to seek an alternative which could well mean that we win the ball back quicker and bang, we have our goal. After all, if we take the lead, we don’t usually lose it.
Food For Thought
Last week at St James’ Park, Brighton pulled off a more than impressive smash and grab as they came away with all three points. Alarmingly from a Wolves perspective, their goal came from a set piece. After looking over it, it’s a combination of bad marking from Newcastle and a well-worked corner move from the Seagulls. The most important thing is that it’s completely avoidable. Have a look and decide for yourself.
At this point, the corner has just been taken, yet Izquierdo has been totally ignored by his marker and left with a healthy amount of room on the edge of the area. The ball then makes its way to the back post, Duffy (#4) smartly heads it to Izquierdo on the edge and he fires one in down the keeper’s throat. Kayal (#7) deflects the ball in and Brighton have something to hold on to. What does this mean for Wolves, though? Number one, the zonal marking will work to a certain extent, but we can’t afford to leave a man free on the edge of the area. End of.
Secondly, every single Newcastle player is in that above image. What’s the point? Including the corner taker, there are only seven Brighton players in the shot. Let’s leave two on the halfway line and catch them on the counter. Play for the win. Come on!
The Other Side Of The Coin
As is demonstrated above, Brighton can be quite creative from corners, however, they are also as equally vulnerable at times when defending them. Take their impressive win over Manchester United as an example.
Phase one of the corner has seen the ball find it’s way out the edge of the area. In turn, the four United players that are highlighted in and around the penalty spot are all being quite well looked after. Arguably, the player marking Lukaku (six-yard box, on the left-hand side from a United perspective) should be the other side. Although, from where the ball is, not much looks likely.
Due to the Brighton back line not expecting phase two, Lukaku now has a good yard of space. Despite his questionable form, even he wasn’t going to miss that one. Ultimately, Brighton are pretty solid when it comes to defending the initial ball into the box, but when the second phase happens fast enough, they can be caught off guard. If Jimenez, Boly or someone else sticks in the six-yard box and expects the redelivery of the ball, that could well be our way of winning the game. There you have it.
Bennett vs Dendoncker
Everyone is in agreement, pretty much, that Cavaleiro should be brought in for Jota from the start today. Diogo Jota is a fantastic player, he’s just not got into second gear yet and Cavaleiro has done more than enough to warrant a place in the starting XI. A few people are banging the ‘Ruben Vinagre drum’ as well which is understandable. As I touched on in the analysis of the Watford game, we are crying out for a naturally left-footed player to play LWB. Not only does it give us more balance, it gives us more options, as well. Albeit, it would be harsh to drop either Doherty or Jonny based on just last week’s performance as they’ve been sterling throughout our campaign thus far.
That leaves the only contentious decision. For transparency reasons, I want to state that I have nothing against Bennett and I think he’s done fantastically well, nonetheless, Dendoncker is an international player with Champions League experience and the time is right to bring him in. It’s difficult to do a fair comparison of the two as Dendoncker has only featured in the Carabao Cup against Sheffield Wednesday and Leicester. The easiest way to do it is a direct comparison of the two Leicester games. Bennett played in the league, Dendoncker in the cup. Let’s have a look.
36/44 passes is entirely acceptable. That gives Bennett a success rate of 82% which is 2% above the 80% benchmark that I’ve got on a personal level for us. It’ll be 85% next season, soon it’ll be 100%, no problem. There’s nothing to separate Dendoncker and Bennett when it comes to aerial duels, they both won 100% and the same is said for the likes of clearances and interceptions as well, there’s not much in it.
Should A Defender Be Selected On His Passing Ability?
The Belgian put two passes astray all game. 32/34, a total of 94%. At the moment, Bennett plays alongside Boly and Coady, the latter two are calm, cool and comfortable on the ball and don’t panic when put under pressure. Bennett, on the other hand, does have the tendency to panic more so than the other two and isn’t too alien to punting the ball upfield when pressured. For that reason and that reason alone, I would play Dendoncker. At the start of the season, fair enough, you don’t chuck in a new centre-back into a three that has worked so well. He’s had over two months now though, has Dendoncker. The time is right. Put him in.
In summary, the game is likely to be decided, either way, by a set piece. It won’t be a high scoring game, so I’m opting for a slightly different prediction than the usual Wolves to win to nil. I think we will win. The winning goal will be a header. Get involved with that, you won’t regret it. Come on!!!
Until the next time.