Graham Potter's bizarre season of progress with a nagging sense of underachievement

Here is a question for you - is it possible to progress at the same time as underachieving?

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 6:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 6:02 pm
Brighton and Hove Albion head coach Graham Potter was frustrated with his team's points tally of 41

Because in the strangest of football seasons, that is something that Brighton & Hove Albion appear to have manged.

Progress seems to have been the buzzword around the Seagulls for a couple of years now. That is largely because when Graham Potter was appointed in the summer of 2019, the club publicly stated that they want to become established as a top 10 team in the Premier League.

As a result of such a declaration of ambition, everything Brighton do is viewed through the prism of progress. Is Potter moving Brighton towards that goal?

A quick glance at the final table would suggest that hardly any progress has been made in 2020-21. Nine wins is the same number as last season, 41 points is the same number as last season and 16th place is actually a spot lower. Based on all of that, Brighton have stood still at best.

Whilst the table never lies, it does not always tell the complete truth. Anyone who has watched the Albion this season will know that Potter has a team who play excellent football and, on their day, can go toe-to-toe with the best sides in the world.

Victories over Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs are testament to that, as is a first ever point away at Chelsea. Manchester United required some extremely questionable decisions at both the Amex and Old Trafford to pick up their six points from the Seagulls, West Ham in sixth could not beat Brighton and the Albion picked up two wins from a Leeds United outfit who made quite a splash on their return to the top flight.

Then there is our new best friend, xG. If Brighton performed to their expected goals in 2020-21, they could have finished as high as fifth in the table. That smacks to me of there being progress made, even if there is clearly work to be done to make it more tangible in terms of actual point and wins, the currency in which football is played.

Whilst everyone seems to be fixated on progress to the point where Darren Gough of fast bowling and Strictly fame can pop up on the radio and send fans into a frenzy by saying Brighton have gone nowhere two seasons, not many people are tackling the underachievement aspect.

For a club like Brighton, Premier League survival should be the first and foremost goal every season. In that regard, the Albion have achieved their overriding aim for the season. It does not mean though that after four seasons in the top flight, we should merely be happy with finishing anywhere outside of the bottom three – especially when you consider the quality available to Potter.

Look at this Brighton squad and you see Yves Bissouma, a man who is destined to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world, quite possibly next season. Ben White is coveted by the European Super League greedy six and their interest is only likely to increase now Gareth Southgate has noted his talents and called him into England’s provisional squad for Euro 2020.

Lewis Dunk has been one of the most consistent players in the Premier League for four seasons now. Robert Sanchez is rated better than £72 million Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga, who he has ousted from the Spain set up.

Tariq Lamptey was being looked at by German champions Bayern Munich and Spanish champions Atletico Madrid before injury struck. Solly March was rumoured to be in England contention too before he was also ruled out for the campaign.

Leandro Trossard is a regular in a Belgium squad that is one of the most talented on the planet. Adam Lallana has won the Premier League and the Champions League and Joel Veltman is a serial silverware lifter from his time at Ajax and a mainstay of the Netherlands national team.

Should a squad with that much ability be finishing 16th in the table? Probably not is your answer. It should definitely be picking up more than four points from a possible 12 against the three sides relegated from the Premier League, and to not win a single game against the bottom four is pretty shocking.

Potter had at his disposal this season a group of players good enough to finish in the upper echelons of the lower half of the table. It is arguably the best squad that Brighton have ever had. For there to be only four worse teams in the top flight this season means the Albion have underachieved… even at the same time as making progress.

Of course, we all know the one thing that could spark further progress and help this Brighton side fulfil their undoubted talent. A striker. If Brighton were able to take more of the numerous chances they create, then suddenly they start performing towards their xG, more points are on the board and the Premier League table makes for pleasanter reading, reflecting the ability that the Albion have in their ranks.

Doing business in a pandemic is difficult and that mind boggling figure of a £67 million loss in 2019-20 will hang over every decision Brighton make this summer. Nobody could blame them for not buying a centre forward given the money Tony Bloom has whipped out his own wallet over the past 10 seasons.

But if the Albion are serious about making progress and want to shake this nagging feeling of underachievement, then they have to find a way to sign that silver bullet striker.

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