Graham Potter must rethink Brighton's possession obsession after ruthless triumph at Leeds

So that is what it feels like to win a game football. Brighton fans could have forgiven for forgetting the buzz of winning in recent months as Saturday’s 1-0 victory at Leeds United on was only the Albion’s sixth success in their past 37 matches stretching back to the start of 2020.

Graham Potter guided his team to a hard fought and well deserved victory at Leeds last Sunday
Graham Potter guided his team to a hard fought and well deserved victory at Leeds last Sunday

There is something quite noticeable about those victories too. Pour over the statistics from them and you will see that in five of the six, Brighton recorded less possession than their opponents.

For a club with a manager like Graham Potter who wants his side to play possession football, it is an interesting fact, writes Scott McCarthy of www.wearebrighton.comBrighton’s first win of 2020 arrived in June when Arsenal were beaten 2-1 at the Amex with the Albion having 41 percent possession. Against rock bottom Norwich City, a 1-0 success was earned with 42 percent possession.

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The victory at Burnley on the final day of the 2019-20 season saw Brighton have 46 percent possession. Aston Villa were beaten in November with 45 percent and the weekend win at Elland Road came via 34 percent.

Newcastle United are the only opponents Brighton have managed to beat in over year by having more of the ball. Steve Bruce’s side were utterly woeful when the Albion travelled to St James’ Park back in September, recording 53 percent possession on our way to arguably the easiest win we have had as a Premier League club.

It is undeniable that Brighton are better when they concentrate less on having possession for possessions sake and more on hurting opponents. Forget sideways passes and triangles on the edge of the box and instead take risks and drive for goal.

We saw that in the beautiful passing move which decided the game against Leeds. Pascal Gross started it with a lovely around-the-corner flick to Ben White; White carried the ball forwards to find Alexis Mac Allister who was happy to go even deeper into the home side’s half.

A lovely little one-two with Leandro Trossard later and Mac Allister was sweeping a low pass across goal to leave Neal Maupay with a tap-in. Liquid football as Alan Partridge might have said had he been roped into commentary at Elland Road.

Brighton are better suited to playing this sort of quick, positive football – especially Mac Allister and Trossard. Other Albion players might have checked back or looked sideways when they reached the position Mac Allister did on the edge of the box, rather than try and guide the ball to Trossard in the crowded penalty area.

The Belgian too cared little for taking the safe option when the ball arrived at his feet and he decided to return it to the on rushing Mac Allister. This was two attacking talents who have struggled at times this season showing what they can do when playing to their strengths.

We have been here before. Prior to March’s lockdown, Brighton’s form read two wins in 18 and the club were freefalling into the relegation battle. After lockdown, the Albion returned with a slightly modified style of play.

Potter adopted a more pragmatic approach, nine games yielded 12 points – 11 of which were won win games in which Brighton had less possession – and safety was secured comfortably in the end.

Potter deserved a lot of credit for changing his philosophy back in June. A lot of managers become wedded to their style of play and end up far too stubborn to change. Chris Hughton’s decision to switch from 4-4-1-1 to 4-3-3 in the 2018-19 season saw Brighton’s form fall off a cliff.

Hughton though refused to acknowledge that the change in formation was the problem, despite it being fairly obvious from the 4-2 defeat at Fulham in January onwards that it was not working.

Instead, Hughton ploughed on regardless right up until the final three games of the season when he belatedly reverted to 4-4-1-1. Brighton stayed up – just – but the damage was done and the best manager the Albion have ever had paid for that woeful second half of the campaign with his job.

Potter’s willingness to compromise slightly on possession football in favour of getting results took Brighton from the exact same barren run of form which had seen Hughton sacked – two wins in 18 - before lockdown to recording their highest ever points total in the Premier League come the end of the 2019-20 season.

Having won at Leeds and played so well in defeat at Manchester City, now must be the time for Brighton to revert again to a style of play which values what happens with the ball rather than keeping it. Potter’s players look more effective playing that way and results speak for themselves.

If Potter is willing to give up the possession obsession, then what we have seen in the past year suggests that Brighton will start climbing the Premier League table. It could be onwards and upwards from here.