Brighton staked their claim for top-half candidacy against Watford. Yves Bissouma, Adam Webster and Graham Potter were brilliant in victory.
‘Brighton have valuable players throughout their spine and even the lack of a reliable goalscorer should not prevent them from finally cracking a top half that, beyond an established six or seven teams, has an interchangeable cast. Since 2016, Stoke Burnley, Newcastle, Sheffield United, Wolves and Leeds have all come tenth or higher. There is no guarantee of being able to build from there but Brighton have the foundations in place for something tangible.’
The caveat to that kneejerk reaction remains roughly the same a week later. It was only Burnley becomes it was only Watford. But therein lies the key: they were precisely the sort of opponents that tripped Brighton up last season.
Graham Potter engineered and inspired Premier League victories over Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Leeds in 2020/21, only to have such resounding statements undermined by the whisper of failing to beat West Brom, Fulham or Sheffield United in six attempts.
Only those three relegated clubs earned fewer points against teams that finished in the bottom half than the stuttering Seagulls. If one is to justifiably assume that Burnley and Watford will be at least a couple of scrolls down this season’s Premier League table then Brighton can already measure their progress in wholly positive terms.
Theirs was a solid summer, a Leicester-lite transfer window in which the substantial sale of one player was countenanced only on their terms, at great expense to the buying club, and with a replacement already settled and established in the first team.
The quiet and efficient shifting of deadwood – Mat Ryan, Davy Propper, Bernardo, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Jose Izquierdo – has put many of their peers to shame and further streamlined a squad to which Enock Mwepu was introduced for £18m.
The accepted wisdom is that a team finishing 16th the previous season would require more than a single signing with aspirations as a regular starter, but Potter has never been one for convention.
Brighton should consider it a success if he spends more than 12 months alongside Yves Bissouma in midfield. Not that the assistance is particularly needed based on this exhibition. Bissouma handled Peter Etebo and Imran Louza alone with ease at times and the apparent lack of serious interest in his services continues to confuse.
He was an indeterminable amount of levels above every other player on the pitch. Bissouma passes not only the numbers test – no player made more tackles (5), interceptions (5) or dribbles (2) – but also the eye exam. Watford played Cleverley but Bissouma’s superior game intelligence thoroughly exposed them.
It was the pockets of Watford’s former Manchester United and Everton midfielder that Bissouma picked to assist Neal Maupay’s clinching goal, envisioning William Troost-Ekong’s lazy pass long before the centre-half had even received the ball. From that point, in the 41st minute, Brighton had won.
Watford improved in the second half but it was not enough, the game already lost to Brighton’s intensity and clarity of thought and execution. Bissouma was exemplary yet it was Adam Webster who the hosts built this victory on.
It was a few days after Ben White was sold to Arsenal that Webster signed a five-year contract to stay, his star continuing to rise after an indifferent start when he joined in summer 2019. He had 31 more touches than any other player, thriving in the freedom Watford’s lack of forward press afforded him.
His consistency and range of passing, Bissouma’s tactical and technical supremacy and Potter’s coaching acumen left the visitors looking wholly unprepared for the challenge. They should take no real shame in that; Brighton will make better teams look worse this campaign.