Here we go again. For the next nine months we will feel a roller-coaster of emotions whilst following Brighton and Hove Albion through their second successive season in the Premier League.
The Seagulls begin their 2018/19 campaign in Hertfordshire against Watford and many will recall our last visit to Vicarage Road, where Miguel Britos chopped down Anthony Knockaert and was deservedly sent off during the 0-0 stalemate.
Watford fans are quietly optimistic that this season will be an improvement on the last, and you can read what one Hornet’s fan said to me about their season’s chances here.
But here are my own personal thoughts on Saturday’s match in this first match preview of the season.
It’s opening day, but it’s important we bring something back to Sussex.
Brighton’s season will not be decided by the events that take place on the pitch at Vicarage Road. They won’t be guaranteed survival if they win, nor will they be doomed for relegation should they lose.
However it is important Chris Hughton’s team bring something back with them to Sussex. It might be opening day, but this is a fixture many would have highlighted as one the Seagulls should aim to win or at least draw.
It’s also worth noting that following their trip to the Hornets, Brighton face four of the top six within the next six matchdays. Manchester United visit the Amex next weekend, before Albion make the long trip up to Anfield and take on a Liverpool side that many predict will be Manchester City’s closest rivals for the title.
With Tottenham and Manchester City to play in September, it is imperative that Brighton take as many points as possible from the games against the smaller sides, starting with Watford.
New signings will get their chances to shine, but it will probably be from the bench.
Fans will be discussing how the team will line-up right up until 2pm on Saturday afternoon. How many of the new signings will start? Which formation will Hughton use?
Personally, I don’t see him doing too much tinkering. I know in a previous post I suggested a change in formation to free up the opportunity to start Yves Bissouma, Davy Propper and Dale Stephens, but I doubt that will happen.
This is a huge opportunity to get some points on the board early and although the Club has spent over £60m strengthening the squad, it is only Bernardo that starts for me. Hughton will stick with the players that did so well last season in keeping Albion in the league. They now have a season worth of experience to their advantage, which could help see away form improve this year.
I would guess that we will probably get to see Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Bissouma both come off the bench and get their chance to shine with 20-30 minutes to go, if required.
Watford could be dangerous on the offensive, but their big stars may still be rusty.
Watford have some good talent within their ranks. Their main man last season, Abdoulaye Doucouré, has recently signed a new long-term deal to remain with the Hornets. Gerard Deulofeu, Roberto Pereyra, Andre Gray and captain Troy Deeney are all also capable of winning any game for Javi Gracia’s men.
Another huge talent is Will Hughes. The former Derby midfielder is known to pull the strings in the middle of the park and could be the one that causes the Seagulls’ defence the most problems.
However not all of them have featured in pre-season. Rustiness could be a factor towards the end of the game, which could play into Brighton’s hands.
Knockaert will be fired up after last season’s encounter.
Now with bleached blonde hair, AK seems to have picked up where he left off towards the end of last season.
The winger was immense against United at the Amex, and was the best player on the pitch during Brighton’s 2-1 win over Nantes last week.
Following the Britos incident last August, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Frenchman fired up for this game from the outset.
This will be a tight, cagey affair and it may take just a single moment of magic to separate the two sides. Knockaert has the tools at his disposal to produce said magic, and if the little magician plays as well as the supporters all know he can, then he could be the one that makes the difference.
A win would be an early sign of intent towards Brighton’s rivals.
As mentioned above, it’s crucial we play for the win on Saturday and try and get something from the game.
The mood from the camp looks calm and focused from the outside, but I’m certain the players understand how important it is to get off to a good start.
Victory away from home would be an early sign of intent to Brighton’s rivals. Every point picked up on the road in the top flight is a precious one. It is never easy to get something on your travels, and if Brighton were to get that first away point so soon, it will calm the nerves for the team and supporters.
But if they can be three points ahead of a team also fighting for an 11th-17th placed finish, that will provide the players with an early safety cushion. Last season, Brighton only flirted with the relegation spots – they were never in the bottom three for long periods of time, unlike Crystal Palace or Swansea City. Hopefully it will be a similar outcome this time around.
I can see the opening few minutes being quite cagey. There may not be many chances in the game, but I think Brighton will score and finish the stronger of the two sides. You can never rule Watford out with the attacking threat though, so I’ll say a draw.
Watford 1-1 Brighton and Hove Albion.