The Opposition Opinion is back for another week ahead of our clash with Graham Potters Brighton at St James’ Park.
Here’s what he had to say in response to our pre-match questions:
Q1 – To start off, what short of shape do you feel Brighton are in coming into this one? Interested to know what sort of summer you’ve had, what you made of your opening game vs Chelsea & the general feeling around the club ahead of Sunday.
The little business that we have done has been very shrewd. Adam Lallana arriving on a free from Liverpool and defender Joel Veltman signing from Ajax after we triggered his release clause for £900,000 meant that we picked up two full internationals with over 50 caps between them for less than one million pounds.
That good work gets overshadowed with each passing day in which we do not find a striker, however. Glenn Murray has been allowed to move to Watford on a season long loan, which leaves Neal Maupay and Aaron Connolly as our only senior centre forwards. We are one injury and one suspension away from Graham Potter having to field a team without a recognised striker.
It is not just the lack of numbers that is a concern. Connolly and Maupay are extremely similar players, which means that if we come up against opponents who snuff them out, we have no way of changing our approach.
The Chelsea game was grimly familiar in that regard. We played really well and to lose the season opener to a side who have lavished £200 million on attacking reinforcements because of an individual mistake from Steve Alzate and an unfortunate deflection bodes well for the year ahead.
What does not bode well is that we created a lot of chances and neither Maupay nor Connolly came close to taking one. There is a feeling that this Brighton side could do great things; the back three is solid and we look a threat going forward. Not being able to put the ball in the back of the net is what is holding us back, and the Albion simply have to address it before the transfer window closes.
Q2 – Give us your best players, your ‘ones to watch’ (for good or bad) and your weak links that we could look to exploit…
Lewis Dunk is the obvious choice for best player. How he is still at the Amex I do not know as he is far too good for us.
Leandro Trossard is one to watch. He kept getting struck down by niggly little injuries in the first half of last season but post-lockdown he was our creator-in-chief and has started weighing in with goals too, including the consolation against Chelsea.
As for weak links, again it goes back to our strikers. If your back four are comfortable dealing with forwards in the mould of Maupay and Connolly who like to run in behind, then you are pretty likely to keep a clean sheet.
Q3 – As a team, what are the strengths and weaknesses of this Brighton side?
There cannot be many better back threes than Brighton’s. Dunk I have already mentioned, Adam Webster was the best centre back in the Championship with Bristol City in 2018-19 before we paid £18 million for him last summer and although he had a shaky start, post-lockdown he was superb. Then we have this other young guy you might have heard of, Ben White.
Whilst White was earning rave reviews at Leeds last season, I think most of us were a little more sceptical. Leeds fans aren’t exactly known for their sane opinions – see the number deluded enough into thinking they will be challenging for the top four this season – so there was very much a sense of taking the hyperbole that they were attaching to White with a pinch of salt.
Webster offered a good example of how difficult the jump in standard between Championship and Premier League is and so there were no guarantees White would look anywhere near as good in a Brighton shirt as he did in a Leeds one. The very early signs are promising though. We already had a good defence, but White strengthens it further.
No prizes for guessing what I am going to say to the second part of the question about our weaknesses – the attack. Again.
Q4 – What’s the Brighton XI and formation Graham Potter is likely to go with on Sunday?
There is little point trying to guess Potter’s team selection as at times it looks like he draws it out of a hat. We had four central defenders, four wingers and three right backs in various starting XIs last season. On Thursday night, he played five central midfielders in our Carabao Cup win over Pompey.
Formation wise, 3-5-2 is a safe bet as that is the only way Potter can get Webster, Dunk and White into the same team. Maty Ryan is the only other guaranteed starter, unless Potter goes completely mad and puts Jason Steele in goal. He’s done stranger things in the past, like Davy Pröpper at right back…
Q5 – What do you make of this Newcastle side and which players do you see as the strengths and weaknesses in our team?
Your recruitment has been seriously impressive and I’m not sure how this will go down with your readers, but I really like Steve Bruce as a manager too!
When Rafa the Gaffer left last summer, it was hard to see Newcastle staying up as most of the football world put your previous survivals down to him.
From the outside, Bruce did a really good job last season. If he can get the likes of Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser back on form and you keep Allan Saint-Maximin, then I think you will surprise a few this season.
Q6 – What sort of game are you expecting this to be and how do you see it panning out? Give us a prediction..
I’m hoping it will be slightly more entertaining than our six Premier League games so far! The July meeting at the Amex was so dull that I actually spent the second half looking at sofas with my Mrs, which turned out to be an expensive mistake as our new one now turns up next week. Never before has a Brighton game cost me so much money.
Despite my rantings about the striker situation, my heart still says that Maupay and Connolly are going to start converting a lot of these chances we create at some point. Will it be Sunday at St James’ Park? It would be a handy fillip for the Potter’s questionable argument that he would rather improve what we have than buy in new.
I don’t think there is much between our two squads, so let’s go for a 1-1 draw. And no new furniture.
Q7 – Where do you see our two sides finishing in the 2020/21 table and which three teams are you backing to go down?
West Ham United are a complete shambles and it is never a good sign when your club captain is sending out tweets saying how peeved he is with the owners so I think they will go.
Then it is a case of take your pick between the three promoted sides. The gap between the Premier League and the Championship seems to get bigger every season and it is even harder to bridge this year given the lack of summer; not much time to improve squads or have a rest after a gruelling 46 game season.
Based on what we saw on the opening day, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham look the most likely for an instant return.
Q8 – Hypothetical of course, but if you could sign any one player from NUFC, who would you like to see Graham Potter go for?
Callum Wilson is exactly the sort of striker that Brighton need and I am mystified as to why we weren’t at least involved in the conversation.
We had been strongly linked with him when he was at Coventry City in the summer of 2004 and we were after a Leonardo Ulloa replacement. Our Head of Recruitment – a man named David Burke who rather aptly lived up to his surname – decided to go for Chris O’Grady instead.
Q9 – It was a tentative link, but Sky Sports have credited us with an interest in your rarely seen full-back, Bernardo. Your thoughts on that one and him as a player?
Good question! It’s a strange one as he was one of our better players in 2018-19 under Chris Hughton and as a technically good, attack minded full-back he should be well suited to Potter’s style of play. For some reason that nobody seems to fathom, Potter has never taken to him, preferring Solly March at left wing back and Big Dan Burn as a traditional left back in a back four.
His lack of first team action seems to have dented his confidence and with that, his form has deserted him, so it is a bit of a vicious circle really. He scored in our cup win against Pompey in midweek and looked a little like the player we were so impressed by two seasons ago, but if Potter is not going to use him then a sale would probably suit all parties. You would be getting yourself a good Premier League full back – providing Bruce can rebuild his confidence.
Q10 – Finally, if you had our two squads to choose from and were asked to pick the best possible side, what would you starting 11 be?
Blimey, that’s a tough question!
Maty Ryan in goal, our back three of White, Webster and Dunk. Tariq Lamptey right wing back, Jamal Lewis on the left. Jonjo Shelvey and Yves Bissouma in the middle and a bold front three of Callum Wilson with Trossard and Saint-Maximim either side.
(3-4-3): Ryan – White, Dunk, Webster, – Lamptey, Bissouma, Shelvey, Lewis Trossard, Wilson, Saint-Maximin.
As ever, a big thanks to Scott for taking the time to speak and give us some in-depth answers ahead of today’s game at St James’ Park.
Next up we’ll have the thoughts of a Tottenham fan in the build up to next weekend’s trip to North London.