Rarely has a pre-season seemed so important as it does for Brighton this time around.
The last time Albion played competitive football, Chris Hughton was in charge and they were soundly beaten by Manchester City as Pep Guardiola’s team claimed their second successive Premier League title at the Amex on the final game of the season.
It was only 54 days ago but so much has already changed at the club, it feels like an eternity.
There’s no doubt pre-season matches can be dull affairs, players are easing their way to fitness while trying not pick up injuries and understandably the matches lack an edge.
For Brighton this year, however, it all feels a little different. Many players have huge points to prove while new manager Graham Potter will be busy installing his methods. The upcoming trip to Austria is his opportunity to shape the team into his style, and just how much that differ’s from Hughton’s way is what players and fans are all waiting to see.
“The new coaches are going to be different to what we’ve been used to,” said captain Lewis Dunk as he reported back from his summer break. “But we’ll soon find out during pre-season exactly how Graham wants us to play. Especially with a few new signings, the training camp in Austria is a good chance.”
Brighton will play one fixture in Austria against FC Liefering, who finished 10th in the country’s second tier and are a feeder club for FC Red Bull Salzburg, before heading back to the UK. They fine-tune their preparations for the season opener at Watford with friendlies at Crawley, Fulham, Ebbsfleet and Birmingham. Their one warm-up match at the Amex is against Valencia on August 8.
Potter’s Swansea played attacking football and now his not-so easy-challenge is to implement that into a Brighton team, who at times last season offered up some pretty stodgy stuff indeed. Hughton would argue it kept them in the Premier League...but only by a whisker.
Potter will be expected to release the shackles but he will also have to deliver results in the richest league in the world. Supporters want goals at the Amex but there is a fine balance to be had, particularly if you have one of the smaller budgets in the division.
Across Europe, Ajax were praised for their football last season. Their attacking philosophy was lauded and it took them all the way to a semi-final of the Champions League, where they were cruising against Tottenham until they totally collapsed. They were simply unable to close the door.”They and their philosophy will now watch the final on the TV,” was Jose Mourinho’s unforgiving analysis. Mourinho no doubt would have preferred a tactical 1-0.
It’s unlikely Potter will have Brighton playing like Ajax - not this side of Christmas at least - but the call for “attack attack attack!” could be a risky one.
Brighton do have creative talents within their squad and Potter will look to build a solid foundation on which they can shine...but that foundation will indeed have to be solid.