Brighton and Hove Albion / A Dale Stephens appreciation piece
By Jacob Panons
Dale Stephens has been silently vital for Brighton & Hove Albion this season with the midfielder topping the statistical charts against the Premier League's finest and also England's best.
As everyone praises the likes of Aaron Connolly and Dan Burn - and rightly so - Stephens,30, has proved to be the ticking heartbeat of a vibrant Brighton side.
This season the midfielder has recorded 508 passes (63 per match), 24 tackles, 15 interceptions, 14 clearances, 64 recoveries, and a passing success rate of 88.2%.
Only four midfielders in the Premier League (Rodrigo, Jorginho, Harry Winks and Oleksandr Zinchenko) have completed more passes than Stephens, while he places sixth in touches, fifth in tackles, and sixth in interceptions among midfielders in the league this season.
Stephens also tops the charts against his English midfield rivals coming first in touches, tackles, and interceptions, while placing second in passes (behind only Winks) - and third in clearances.
Potter has placed great faith in Stephens this season and it has paid off with the midfielder recording more passes than Matteo Guendouzi, Fabinho and England international Declan Rice.
Stephens has played all eight games of this year’s Premier League campaign, averaging 88.4 minutes per game and it is clear to see why.
This season Stephens has adopted a slightly deeper role and although he is not a player who is often on the highlight reel, he has proved to be an integral part of Brighton's squad. In order to play Potter's possession based football, you need the right people, with the right skills in the key areas. So far, Stephens has proved to be well and truly up to the task.
In terms of improvement, Brighton are only one point better off than they were at this stage last season but the attitude this season on and off the pitch is contagious and has brought a newfound sense of optimism back into the club along with impressive performances.
Stephens and his Brighton teammates are next set to play away at Aston Villa. A third win of the season would provide another welcome boost and if they achieve it, Stephens will have no doubt played his part.