Brighton and Hove Albion have become perennial overachievers and routine giant killers. Playing in a flexible system, despite being gutted every year by bigger clubs, the seagulls keep humming. However, their exceptionally attractive football which made everyone’s mouth water is credited to one man – the genius that is Graham Potter.
The English boss was hired in 2019 and agreed to a four-year deal having previous managerial spells at Swedish club Ostersund and Swansea City. Potter immediately instilled his theory into the system, and it had an immediate effect.
While his playing style drew some criticism, he never veered away from it. He had a lot of confidence in his management, and it finally paid off. Brighton enjoyed their best season in the Premier League last season, finishing 9th in the table with 51 points.
🗣 "As a team we have a lot to be excited about."
Graham Potter on Brighton evolving next season as they approach their 5th season in the top flight pic.twitter.com/RBHcRTV6zn
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) May 15, 2021
Despite selling key players every year, with Cucurella’s record transfer leading this year, Brighton have started even better. The club is currently 4th, and deservedly too. That is what Brighton under their orchestrator, Graham Potter has done- playing some of the most beautiful and attractive football this season in the Premier League. Now that he has been targeted by Chelsea, we take a look at Graham Potter’s tactics that started the rise of Brighton.
Graham Potter tactics
Build-ups are the litmus test for possession-based teams, and how organized and successful they are in progressing the ball out from the back tells much about how organized and successful they are in other phases. It’s here where you see the excellence in Graham Potter’s preparation.
Potter is pure positional play: some core principles but without being rigid, instead letting the players’ intelligence and synchronisation between one another define the shape. Positional play is not about tying down each situation to one group or subgroup, but knowing that each is different and being able to dominate them regardless through previously developed moves and decision-making. It is a perfectionist style and a brand of football based on having the ball to be properly positioned and creating advantages. And Potter is one of the best representatives of such style.
Graham Potter is a perfectionist obsessed with details. He works individually on things such as body orientation and transforming footballers that have a poor reading of the game, like Tariq Lamptey, into the opposite. He gives players the tools to improve their decisions, which makes them collectively smarter and more cohesive.
Tactically, he is quite adaptable to the tools he has, but always with a non-negotiable positional play. He brings new ideas and always aims at translating superiority from one line to another. However, he does not just give instructions to his footballers and expect them to interpret them like machines but instead is a revolutionary in his coaching methods.
Adaptability is the underlying, most basic aspect of his philosophy. Potter used ten different formations at Swansea, and the side ended up with the most passes every 90 minutes in the Championship.
Style of play
Brighton’s build-ups are a joy to watch. Potter often employs a fluid 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 formation, with their wing-backs serving an important part in both offence and defence. They play in a 5-2-3 formation while not in possession, with the wing-backs falling alongside the wide central defenders for the purpose of providing defensive stability. It is almost rare for the opposition to infiltrate the back five if they remain vigilant and in place.
Brighton’s continued conceded goals can be attributed to deficiencies in focus at the base. If their wing-backs are trapped high up, the centre-backs are exposed and the opposition will generate opportunities in the time it takes the wing-backs to react. This season, they’ve also been hit by the transfer of Cucurella who was a key part of their buildup. Potter overcame this by playing MacAllister and Trossard, two of his best ball-carriers, in deeper roles. This has made buildup smoother. Again, adaptability, flexibility and tactical genius comes to the fore.
In attack, the Seagulls dominate the art of playing simple. They always find angles and passing options and this reduces the time their footballers need to think about the next action. They make it look easy. The fullbacks who are in advanced positions have the freedom to bomb forward linking up with the midfielders and making overlapping runs to create goal-scoring chances through cutbacks or low crosses into the box.
Potter is a huge advocate of gegenpressing, especially from his attackers. Danny Welbeck suits this hard-running style perfectly and has looked a player reborn under Potter.
Conviction and confidence
Yet what is best about Graham Potter is his deep-rooted conviction. You can be 100% sure and then some, that he will not give up on his style or possession even if the opposition are huge favourites. This can be seen in the various glorious results he has gotten while going toe-to-toe with the elites. Manchester City’s press was rendered useless once by Brighton’s positional play. Manchester United have been at the end of multiple drubbing at their hands, including a 4-0 loss. Recently, Leicester were handed a 5-2 loss.
😉 How's that xG looking?
— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) May 18, 2021
Only 47, he has a very bright future ahead. Chelsea approaching him for their managerial vacancy is vindication of Potter’s talent and the effort it took him to reach there. He came into the limelight when his minnow Swedish side Ostersunds defeated Arsenal in European competition. Now, the limelight on him has never been bigger.