In this article, we explore the recent upturn in form that has turned Brighton into one of the best defensive teams in the league in recent weeks, ready for FPL Gameweek 25.
The story of Brighton’s season has been bizarre and often inexplicable. But after 24 games, Brighton’s performances are finally being rewarded with the results they deserve.
Over the last 6 games, Brighton have won 12 points, having taken only 11 from their previous 16 games.
Such is Brighton’s resurgent form that they now sit 8 points above the relegation zone and have averaged more points since GW19 than all but City, West Ham and Chelsea.
First, I will explore what has changed for Brighton recently, and then I will go onto what this means for FPL.
Brighton’s last 6 games has seen them play Leeds, Fulham, Spurs, Liverpool, Burnley and Villa, which is a real mix of playing styles but not altogether different from their previous 6 games.
However, Brighton approached these games very differently. For most of the season, Brighton have wanted to keep possession, work their way forward and create chances down the flanks, particularly from crossing.
More recently, Brighton have taken a pragmatic approach to possession, dominating in some games to force the point such as against Villa (59% possession), but sitting back in others to soak up pressure before counter attacking such as against Leeds (33% possession). They are adapting much more effectively!
Brighton GWs 13-18 vs GWs 19-24 (rank)
Possession: 52.4% (8th) vs 43.7% (15th)
Passes: 3024 (4th) vs 2415 (16th)
Final third passes: 471 (8th) vs 446 (11th)
Touches: 4091 (4th) vs 3534 (17th)
Penalty area touches: 142 (8th) vs 164 (6th)
Take-ons attempted: 89 (11th) vs 71 (16th)
Despite fewer touches overall (3534 vs 4091), Brighton have had more touches in the opposition’s penalty area. Similarly, while their number of passes have dropped significantly (~20%), their number of passes in the final third have barely dropped at all (~5%).
What should stand out from the above numbers is that Brighton have sacrificed the ball, but made up for it by being much more effective with the ball, spending a greater proportion of their play in areas that can hurt their opposition.
While Brighton have adapted their play, it is clear that personnel have also made a significant difference to Brighton’s recent success. Below, I explore the evolution of Brighton’s defence.
Brighton’s defensive numbers per game
GWs 1-12 vs GWs 13-18 vs GWs 19-24
GC: 1.75 vs 1.33 vs 0.17
xGC: 1.10 vs 1.25 vs 0.69
Clean Sheets: 0.17 vs 0.17 vs 0.8
Shots in Box Conceded: 5.42 vs 7.83 vs 5.5
Shots on Target Conceded: 3.08 vs 4 vs 2.83
Big Chances Conceded: 1.67 vs 2 vs 0.67
Ryan’s early season performances were Bravo-esque, and his 47% save percentage will have had a significant knock-on effect on his teammates’ confidence levels.
In fact, Brighton’s players will have finished most games looking around at each other wondering how they hadn’t won; according to Understat, Brighton accumulated more xG than their opposition on 8 occasions in their first 12 games, and yet only gained 10 points over the period.
Despite commendable quantities of faith, Potter finally deposed Ryan from the number 1 jersey in GW13. While the decision saw all of Brighton’s underlying numbers drop further, it did see Sanchez buck Brighton’s trend of haemorrhaging goals far above their xG.
More recently (since GW19), Brighton’s underlying numbers have significantly improved, which has seen them concede only 1 goal in their last 6 games.
The only major defensive change since GW19 is that Veltman has stepped up in Lamptey’s absense, and Bernardo has not played at all. Both Lamptey and Bernardo perform significantly worse than Brighton’s other defenders in almost every defensive metric.
However, Brighton’s defence as a whole have not noticeably upped any of their collective defensive numbers except clearances (66 in GWs19-24 vs 55 in GWs13-18). Other defensive numbers have actually dropped significantly since GW19 such as recoveries (143, down from 161), and successful tackles (26, down from 50).
While there are a myriad of other factors that are likely to have contributed to Brighton conceding fewer goals, such as the shift in style of play discussed above or a more settled line up, it does look like the goal keeper has had the most telling impact.
Below is a table showing how Brighton’s keepers have performed per 90 over three significant periods of Brighton’s season. The numbers in brackets are how these performances rank in comparison to all regular keepers.
The table shows us that when Sanchez became Brighton’s number 1, Brighton initially conceded roughly similar xG on target per game (1.08 vs 1.13), but conceded fewer goals (1.63 vs 1.28).
Brighton then went on to massively reduce their xG on target conceded (1.13 vs 0.4) and further reduce the goals they conceded (1.28 vs 0.17).
What makes this all the more remarkable is that it has been done against the backdrop of fixtures against Leeds, Spurs, Liverpool and Villa.
Looking further into the numbers does begin to shed light on why these dramatic changes have occurred for Brighton.
The single most interesting thing I’ve discovered from researching Brighton: Ryan hasn’t suddenly become a bad keeper. He has just been asked to stop shots that have been taken from ridiculously high-quality shooting positions (0.37 xG per shot on target).
When every save must be an excellent one, it is no wonder that a keeper will struggle (47.1% saved).
Some part of Sanchez’s arrival seems to have reduced the xGC of the average shot on target (dropping from 0.37 to 0.3, and then to 0.15).
One reason that could account for this is Sanchez’s far greater tendency to come out and claim the ball, which has seen him make significantly more recoveries than Ryan.
Another likely scenario is that strikers sensed blood against Ryan, and when high quality chances came up, they felt composed enough to get them on target.
In any case, from an FPL point of view, Sanchez’s at first alarming save % becomes understandable. We’ve already seen with Pope this season, and may soon see with Martinez, it is impossible for a goalkeeper to sustain 90+% save averages for very long.
However, seeing that Sanchez’s save % directly relates to the xG of the shots he’s faced means it is much more sustainable should Brighton continue to restrict the quality of shots their opposition can get on target.
Brighton’s Attacking Numbers GWs 13-18 vs GWs 19-24 (rank)
G: 6 (11th) vs 4 (20th)
xG: 7.81 (8th) vs 8.82 (8th)
Shot Accuracy: 25.7% (19th) vs 28.4% (17th)
Shot Conversion: 8.1% (14th) vs 4.5% (20th)
Big Chance: 11 (9th) vs 8 (14th)
Chances Created: 58 (6th) vs 73 (4th)
Successful Crosses: 36 (2nd) vs 34 (2nd)
Brighton may have resolved their defensive troubles, but they still struggle desperately going forwards.
One thing is abundantly clear: it is not for want of trying. Throughout the season, Brighton have produced excellent crossing and chance creation numbers. This has translated into reasonable xG numbers and a fair number of big chances.
However, the story of Brighton’s season continues to be one of mocking the xG model. They may now be overperforming their xGC, but they just cannot finish their chances going forwards.
Where did all the xG go?
Maupay: -3.44 (worst of forwards)
Webster: -1.73 (2nd worst of defenders)
Burn: -1.19 (5th worst of defenders)
Connolly: -1.19 (15th worst of forwards)
Only Dunk has significantly outperformed his xG (+1.28), and besides him there are in total only four Brighton players who have outperformed their xG.
It is an abysmal record that shows no sign of changing.
Having looked in some detail at what has and has not changed for Brighton recently, it is time to move to what this all means for FPL.
Brighton face a very kind run with the possible exception of Leicester in GW27, and the lack of a double in GW26. Games against Palace, West Brom, Southampton and Newcastle are particularly attractive for clean sheet potential.
The standout fixture is the Newcastle one in GW29 as Brighton are one of only eight teams to have a fixture that GW, and even if Brighton players are ignored in the short term, most managers will be bringing in at least one player for GW29.
Brighton’s Opponents’ Attacking Threat last 5 games
Palace and West Brom have particularly awful form numbers (and also season numbers). With Ings firing again, Southampton may see an uplift, whereas Newcastle are sure to suffer a drop without Wilson.
Overall, these look like highly attractive fixtures to attack with a defender.
In terms of FPL points, Sanchez shares the top spot of the form table with Martinez. His season total of 58 from 13 games gives him an average of 4.46 a game. If he’d played all 24 games at that average, he’d have 107 points, making him third of all goalkeepers, just 3 points behind Pope.
Apart from attacking DGWs, there are only three genuine FPL options in the goalkeeper position at the moment, and all of them are performing miracles for their clubs.
It is outside of the scope of this article to explore Villa’s and Burnley’s defences, but in a nut shell, Burnley have had poor defensive numbers all season, while Villa started the season well and have recently dropped off considerably.
Despite Burnley’s defensive woes, they went through a period of clean sheets midway through the season, which prompted me to write an article explaining why it would not last. It didn’t.
Villa is a different case as there is every reason to suspect that this is a blip, and their defensive prowess will return. That said, if it doesn’t, Martinez owners will be worried that saves can’t cover clean sheets.
Sanchez looks to be by far the best option, and certainly if the season started now, all would be on the Sanchez bus as he is significantly cheaper.
But with Martinez making multiple saves, still keeping clean sheets and owners gaining little value in swapping him out, there is a little demand for Sanchez.
Verdict – Jump
I have a great love of Martinez, have been on him since GW2 and can’t afford a transfer at the moment. All these things contribute to me being conservative with my recommendation here.
The numbers, however, speak for themselves, and anyone wildcarding now will really struggle to justify leaving Sanchez out.
All of the above should’ve made it perfectly clear that Brighton have every right to expect a steady flow of clean sheets over the coming GWs.
Dunk sits 15th this season among defenders in the BPS rankings, and 2nd over the last 5 GWs. When Brighton do keep a clean sheet, Dunk is among the most likely to take home the bonus points (he has 5 bonus points from Brighton’s last 6 clean sheets).
Over the last 6 GWs, Dunk has averaged 7.66 points. Between GWs13-24, when Sanchez first took over as number 1, Dunk averaged a decent 4.33 points per game. Compare that to his 1.38 points per game in the first 12 GWs of the season.
Even if Dunk and Brighton don’t manage to sustain their recent excellence, Dunk will be among the highest scoring defenders for the rest of the season. His 4.33 points per game when Sanchez first took over would have placed him second of all defenders if he’d maintained it throughout the season.
Adding to Dunk’s clean sheet potential is his goal threat, which is among the best in the Premier League once again this season.
Dunk’s Goal Threat (rank all defenders)
Goals: 3 (3rd)
xG: 1.72 (5th)
Big Chances: 4 (1st)
Shots: 22 (4th)
Shots on target: 8 (3rd)
Dunk famously outperforms his xG, which in Brighton terms must mean he is the only one allowed to sit on the bench in the changing room while others are forced to look up at his greatness from the floor.
His threat at set pieces is all the more attractive when you consider his upcoming opponents.
Attempts conceded at set pieces (rank among teams)
Palace: 105 (20th)
West Brom: 99 (19th)
Leicester: 95 (17th)
Southampton: 65 (6th)
Newcastle: 89 (16th)
I’d be genuinely surprised if Dunk gets through this period without a goal.
Verdict – Jump
In a season of great defensive options, Dunk still stands out. I would prioritise Dunk above any SGW player, and above all but the most explosive or consistent DGW players.
Brighton’s best spell of the season has coincided with the longest spell Trossard and Groß have had in the team together with Trossard being benched more regularly in the first 12 games, and Groß being benched regularly in the next 6.
Another player to have seen more regular minutes is Mac Allister, whose 630 minutes have largely come (413 of them) in the last 6GWs. Coupled with defence, and also Maupay (who is explored below), Potter has a much more settled line up now.
While this hasn’t seen an uplift in Brighton’s overall threat, it has seen the likes of Trossard and Groß benefit.
Trossard and Groß vs other budget midfielders last 5 games
My first thought when looking at Trossard’s and Groß’ most productive spell of the season is…
Gross has the highest xA on the list, but he will find it difficult to persuade his goal-shy teammates to actually finish the chances he presents them with.
I am tempted to discount creativity altogether when considering Brighton players, which is part of the reason White and Veltman weren’t explored in the previous section.
When you compare the threat of these players, Soucek and Raphinha stand out by a considerable distance, and as Raphinha sits in an attacking team, you would expect him to benefit from more fantasy assists as well (for example, when team mates tap in shots Raphinha has seen blocked or stopped).
While Brighton do have a promising run of fixtures coming up, especially in comparison to the above players who largely sit on SGWs, they will still need players who can actually finish their chances.
Verdict – Swerve
Ultimately, I am extremely doubtful about Brighton’s attacking potential. If I were forced to choose, I would go for Trossard as he is further up the pitch than Groß, carries greater threat and compares well to Groß in terms of the quality of the chances they create.
With so many great midfield options, and money already saved on having Gundogan in a slot, there is only the need for one budget midfielder. For me that is Raphinha, although I understand why others might back the talent that is Saka or the potency of Soucek.
I actually owned Maupay at the beginning of the season. He always seems to be in the right positions, he’s got just about everything you’d like to see from a striker in terms of ball control, runs made, cute touches.
But he doesn’t like shooting. It’s not even that he’s bad at it (which he definitely seems to be), but he also contrives himself out of shooting positions.
Potter has brought Maupay back in the line up, presumably because he offers a lot more than goals, but maybe also because Brighton just don’t have any quality options in that position.
Not even Welbeck who seems to have overcome the knee problems that kept him out of GWs 17-22.
Maupay vs Connolly vs Welbeck per 90
Goals: 0.38 vs 0.26 vs 0.26
xG: 0.56 vs 0.41 vs 0.36
A: 0.05 vs 0.13 vs 0
xA: 0.01 vs 0.09 vs 0.1
Potter’s preference is vindicated in that Maupay does get in the right goal-scoring positions. In fact, his season xG per 90 is equivalent to DCL’s, Bamford’s and Antonio’s (all 0.56), and less than only Vardy’s (0.77) of regularly starting forwards.
However, his conversion to goals is dismal, meaning he scores goals at a rate below 15 other forwards in the game, around the dreaded regions of Benteke and Jesus. Of regular starters, only Mitrovic and McBurnie can claim to finish their chances worse.
The trend has continued since last season so it appears to be more than a matter of confidence. An upturn in conversion is inevitable, and should he prefer on par with his xG, he would become a very interesting option.
Verdict – Pass
I’m not expecting much to change from Maupay. And given the fact that there is a vast array of forwards currently vying for our headspace, I think we can all take comfort from having at least one player that we don’t have to worry about.
Thank you for reading!
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All statistics are taken from FFScout (which I have a paid subscription to) unless indicated otherwise.