Crystal Palace vs Brighton: Patrick Vieira's tactical dilemma for Graham Potter and a Conor Gallagher surprise
February’s 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace last season had many Seagulls fans fearing the worst: relegation. But now, sitting fourth in the Premier League, Brighton look well equipped to avenge the disappointing derby.
Last season, Christian Benteke’s cruel 95th minute winner dragged Brighton back into the midst of an ever-changing relegation tussle.
Despite Brighton’s domination, threatening with 75 per cent possession, 13 corners and 25 attempts across the 90 minutes, Palace snatched the late winner with only their second touch of the game in Albion’s penalty area.
Generally, this result became a microcosm for each club’s respective season: Brighton had lots of possession but did little with it; Palace struggled for the ball but maximised their opportunities. However, since the arrival of Patrick Vieira at Selhurst Park, the roles have somewhat reversed.
It is clear from the opening five fixtures that Vieira’s desire is to play a confident, attacking brand of football. Scrapping Roy Hodgson’s preferred 4-4-2, Vieira (left) has opted for a flexible 4-3-3 formation in the Premier League so far, in the hope that the extra midfielder helps to retain and control the ball more securely in the middle of the park.
The tactical shift has contributed to a significant increase in Palace’s possession, with Vieira’s men keeping most of the ball against Brentford (53 per cent), West Ham (55 per cent) and Tottenham (63 per cent) during their opening five games.
Only Chelsea and Liverpool, who are sitting first and second, were able to stop the Eagles from dominating the ball. Prospering from Vieira’s alteration, loanee Conor Gallagher has emerged an unexpected danger man for Palace this season.
Unable to face his parent club Chelsea on the opening weekend, Gallagher first contributed a dogged and gritty performance against Brentford, before scoring a brace at West Ham to help
Palace come from behind twice against the then league leaders.
With the resolute wall of Cheick Kouyate and James McArthur just behind him, the England U21 international has been given licence to break forward and occupy dangerous positions in the opposition penalty area.
Eagles’ fans have already compared Gallagher’s (below)movement to the signature late arrivals of Frank Lampard, who supervised the youngster during his managerial tenure at Chelsea.
As well as his threat of arriving inside the box, the youngster enjoys occupying spaces between the defence and midfield, hoping to supply Zaha and Ayew on either flank.
Cutting off these passes at the source will prove essential in disrupting Palace’s possession and rhythm. Potter is likely to task Brighton’s midfield anchor Yves Bissouma with the responsibility of shackling Gallagher throughout Monday’s derby.
Brighton have enjoyed a fruitful opening to the Premier League campaign, taking 12 points from the first five.
Other than the 2-0 loss to Everton, Albion have experienced a faultless start to the season, impressively beating Champions League hopefuls Leicester City on Sunday.
Although they only managed 37 per cent possession against the Foxes, Albion were able to create plenty of dangerous opportunities, registering more shots on target than Leicester in total.
Following the team’s improved efficiency in attack, Brighton fans have found Neal Maupay and Danny Welbeck on the scoresheet more frequently, which has unsurprisingly lifted spirits at the Amex.
Both Crystal Palace and Brighton are set to approach the derby with positivity and confidence on Monday, but fans should expect a far more closely fought affair in midfield this time around.
Unlike the clash in February, both sides will be equally eager to control the ball, create a high volume of chances and take all three points.