Brighton before: Watford (A)

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.

PREDICTION:

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.

Opposition in focus: Watford (A)

Brighton and Hove Albion begin their second season in the Premier League away to Watford on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 15:00).

The Seagulls drew 0-0 at Vicarage Road last season – a fixture which Albion fans will fondly remember after Miguel Britos’ moment of madness led to a dangerous lunge on Anthony Knockaert and subsequent red card. Pascal Groß’s 64th minute strike earned Brighton a 1-0 victory in their last encounter at the Amex back in December.

Watford finished a place and a point ahead of Albion in the table back in May, but some suggest that their top flight status is under serious threat this season.

They have been notoriously quick out of the blocks during a league campaign, accumulating the majority of points needed for survival before Christmas. They are also notorious for seeing their form jump out of the window, and the Club consequently drop from European contenders to Premier League survivalists. Some predict that the contrasting form and constant managerial changes will eventually catch up with them, whilst others believe that they will be in for a fully fledged relegation battle this season.

Watford supporter Adam Rowe explains how the Hornets could surprise a few this season, should they can keep their key players fit.

How have Watford fared in pre-season?

“Results wise it’s been a very successful pre-season for us. We have gone throughout the whole summer unbeaten, however key players such as Abdoulaye Doucoure, Nathaniel Chalobah and Gerard Deulofeu have yet to feature due to injury, which is a cause for concern.”

How would you rate the Hornet’s transfer window? Have any new signings impressed? What are your views on Richarlison’s big-money move to Everton? 

“The biggest signing of our window has been the contract extension of Doucoure, he is a massive player for us. The permanent signing of Gerard Deulofeu is pleasing too, he showed in glimpses how valuable he could be to us before he got injured.

“Although it’s disappointing that Richarlison departed (particularly because he’s going to join Marco Silva), it’s a huge fee that the club were never going to turn down. He didn’t make the starting-11 for large parts of the second half of last season so I’m pretty confident we will be okay without him.”

Javi Gracia has been in charge for a while now, has he implemented a new style that the fans are happy with?

“Javi Gracia has certainly divided opinion amongst Watford fans. He is most definitely a nice guy and based on personality he is well liked. However, his playing style in the second half of last season was somewhat negative and we eventually crawled over the line in terms of survival.

“But he did what he was brought into do, which was to keep us in the league. We are yet to score a goal away from home under Gracia and have only picked up a solitary away point. That away form has got to change or I feel fans could soon be on his back. In my view I think now he has had pre-season he can be better judged.”

Who would you say are the danger men Brighton should watch out for?

“Will Hughes has been nothing short of superb when he’s been fit. He is a match winner for us and makes the team tick through his creativity. Another is Roberto Pereyra – he finished the season in very good form so again if he is on song then he can be a real threat. Then there is the obvious one in Doucoure, our player of the season last year and a firm fan favourite, when he plays well Watford tend to.”

What are your opinions on Brighton’s heavy spending this summer and how do you think the Seagulls will do this season?

“I think Brighton will probably replicate what they did last season in terms of the main aim has to be survival first and then trying to finish as high up as possible. You guys have certainly brought in some reinforcements, which I think is key to your chances of survival. The second season always tends to be harder than the first so it was key that you freshened up the squad. The Seagulls have a top manager in Chris Hughton and I think you’ll stay up again this season.”

Are there any Brighton players that you feel Watford need to keep an eye on? Do
you expect to see another Britos v Knockaert battle?

We have signed a new left back over the summer, Adam Masina and from what I have seen of him I have been impressed. He is probably much more suited to dealing with Knockaert. I am sure Knockaert will be subject to his usual pantomime abuse. Personally I think he is a massive player for the Seagulls and always tends to play pretty well against us.

Where do you think Watford will end up this season?

If we keep the squad fit, I think we can honestly challenge to come in the top half of the table. However if we have the injury record we have had in the last two seasons then I fear for us this season. Signing a striker before the deadline would certainly bolster our chances of a successful season. On the whole I think it’s another season of finishing in mid-table.

Finally, what do you think the score will be on Saturday?

I will always back us at home so I will go with a tight 2-1 Hornets win.

**You can follow Adam on Twitter (@adzrowe) and read his own blog here: https://adamrowefootball.blogspot.com/.

 

 

After being promoted to the Premier League, do AFC Bournemouth and Watford have what it takes to stay in the division next season?

Bournemouth’s 3-0 win at Charlton earlier today meant that they have now been officially promoted to the Barclays Premier League. To further sweeten what has been a very successful season for the South coast club, they became Champions, as Watford could only draw 1-1 against Sheffield Wednesday.

Eddie Howe’s team weren’t a club many predicted to take the league by storm, however with the attractive attacking football that the team has produced, they have fully deserved to finish the season top of the pile.

They piped Watford to the Championship summit, but the Hornets shouldn’t be too disappointed, after achieving promotion back to the top division in English football last week at Brighton. It has been eight years since Watford were in the Premier League, but similarly to Bournemouth, they have a destructive offense, which makes them very difficult to beat.

Both teams defined the odds to achieve automatic promotion, but have they got what it takes to survive with the big boys of English football?

Firstly, they will have to rebuild their respective back lines to stand any chance. In the Championship, they both overcame teams merely due to scoring more than their opponents. 4-3s and 5-4s aren’t as easy to come by in the Premier League, once a team goes behind it must work its socks off to equalise.

Bournemouth conceded just 45 goals in their 46 Championship games this season. But the problem they face is that none of their defence has any Premier League experience. They need to recruit some players that know the league, and what it takes to remain in it.

Watford conceded 5 goals more than the Cherries, but similarly they don’t have anyone within their ranks with any experience of Premier League football.

Another hurdle both teams will need to jump is the pressure of bigger clubs coming in for their star assets. Ten Premier League clubs are reportedly monitoring Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson. The striker, who joined the Cherries for £3m from Coventry City last summer, has scored 23 goals for Howe’s team this season. Watford captain Troy Deeney scored 21 goals this term and once again is linked with a move to a more established Premier League side.

It’s hard to see why both players would want to leave their respective clubs. Both have an opportunity to show there worth exactly where they are. However football is a strange game and with the ludicrous amount of money players earn nowadays it is easy to twist the minds of the modern day footballer. Look at Raheem Sterling. He plays for one of the biggest clubs in the world (Liverpool) yet he won’t sign a new contract with a six-figure salary.

Wilson and Deeney both need to be tied down with new contracts, as they will both be key in the two team’s survival bids next season.

The future does looks promising for the two teams though, and I do believe that a number of factors will see the teams compete well in the top flight.

Bournemouth’s stadium only has a capacity of approximately 12,000, making it the smallest stadium in the league next year. But the Cherries can use that to their advantage and create a very intimidating atmosphere, like when a team draws a non-league side in the FA Cup away from home. The fans will have a huge bearing on the team next year, as they need to provide the ground with such an atmosphere that it evokes nervousness into their opposition.

Crystal Palace are a good example of this. They don’t have the biggest stadium in the league but the fans make so much noise that it stops the fluency of the opposition. Manchester City (this season) and Liverpool fans (last season) know what that feels like, seeing their teams lose at Selhurst Park at crucial times of the season.

Bournemouth scored an incredible 98 goals this season, making them the top goal scorers of any of the top four divisions in the country. Their army of offensive players have eradicated all defences they have faced this campaign. Leading Lieutenants Harry Artur, Matt Richie, Yann Kermogant and Calum Wilson have provided General Howe with nothing but goals, goals and more goals.

Teams will fear the Bournemouth forward line next season due to the sheer power that is at Howe’s disposal. The team shouldn’t change their philosophy now they are in the top league. Instead they should focus on adapting their current style. More wing play and more direct attacking football. They will defiantly get results the way they play.

Both Bournemouth and Watford have very good home records this term, which must be replicated next season. Both teams obtained 46 points at their home grounds (bettered only by Ipswich Town and Middlesbrough). Home form is crucial for promoted teams in the Premier League as away wins are difficult to come by. QPR this season only have two away wins to their name since being promoted back to the top flight last May.

With Bournemouth’s secret weapon being their atmosphere, Watford’s greatest asset is their connection with Italian club Udinese. Matej Vydra, Fernando Forestieri and Almen Abdi are all players that Watford have either signed or loaned from the Serie A side in order to gain promotion.

With Premier League status now achieved, it could be possible that Udinese send over even better players. Players that are more physical and more technical, which can only boost the teams’ survival chances.

So do I think that both teams will stay up next season? Yes. I think both have a great chance. Both team’s philosophies are to play sexy, attacking football and for me it’s the best way to achieve results. I can’t see either team hitting mid table but 15th and 16th? That’s a realistic target I think both teams can hit. The transfer market will be key. Both clubs need to sign good strong centre backs and perhaps a known goal scorer in the division. Going by what I have seen this season of the current bottom seven clubs in the Premier League, Bournemouth and Watford will defiantly compete. Can they turn their competiveness and determination into results? We will have to wait and see.