The Premier League weekend kicks off on Saturday lunchtime where Brighton travel to Cardiff with both teams looking to bounce back from disappointing results and performances in the previous week. Throughout the season, Neil Warnock’s side will hope to replicate the consistent home form that was the foundation for their visitor’s survival last year and should be targeting results from the type of fixture.
The visiting Seagulls will be aiming to demonstrate a higher level of performance this weekend after struggling to make an impression from open-play against Everton. Despite showing resilience to grind out three successive one-goal victories and clean-sheets prior to defeat on Merseyside, manager Hughton has emphasised his side’s need for improvement if they wish to compete consistently in attack and defence.
After opting to keep faith in many of the personnel who earnt the club’s promotion last season, Cardiff manager Warnock has admitted that injuries are beginning to limit his options. Harry Arter is suspended after collecting a fifth yellow card of the season last week and Joe Ralls, who would have been the likeliest to replace the Irishman, is also a doubt. The Bournemouth-loanee, whose tenacity will be a miss, joins Jazz Richards, Kenneth Zohore, Lee Peltier and Mendez-Laing on the sidelines. As a result, Victor Camarasa may move infield from his wide-right position to allow natural wide-players Hoilett or Harris to occupy the flank.
Tactically, Cardiff field a similar 4-4-1-1 set-up to this weekend’s visitors, with Bobby Reid’s position just off the main striker comparable to that of Brighton’s Pascal Gross. Warnock has persevered with his side’s direct style but will be disappointed that the likes of Zohore and Hoilett, who combined so effectively last season, have so far failed to adapt to the step-up to the Premier League. The inclusion of the latter on the right wing should balance the Cardiff side. Against Leicester, their set-up was a little lop-sided with Murphy the only recognised winger on the pitch. Added width should stretch the Brighton defence who are compact in central areas but invite pressure on the wings.
Despite the purchase of Camarasa, who has added a sprinkling of technique to a midfield that otherwise favours physicality over guile, Cardiff are still ranked 20th for the average share of possession so far. Statistically, this is unsurprising given the direct nature to their play, though it becomes difficult to make an attacking impression on the game if the ball isn’t being retained efficiently which has been reflected in their chance creation from open-play. Because of their struggles to concoct attacks, Cardiff will continue to rely upon their aerial strength from set-play situations, including long throw-ins.
In this fixture, the wings should play an important role for the hosts, and Bobby Reid may be able to increase his involvement by drifting wide to double-up on the visitor’s full-backs. Brighton have struggled of late to restrict opposing wide-players and look vulnerable to through balls played between full-back and centre-half. Walcott and Coleman were able to work the ball into crossing positions from the by-line on several occasions last weekend and utilised lapses in concentration from covering wingers Izquierdo and Jahanbahksh.
With first-choice pair Peltier and Richards still absent, make-shift full-back Bruno Manga is set to continue in his auxiliary role on the right side of the Cardiff defence, despite being exposed by the pace of Ben Chilwell last weekend and offering little composure to bring the ball forward. The Gabon international should approach defending the speed of Jose Izquierdo with caution as he hasn’t appeared entirely comfortable in the role so far.
Predicted line-up: Etheridge, Manga, Morrison, Bamba, Bennett, Hoilett, Camarasa, Gunnarsson, Murphy, Reid, Paterson.
Chris Hughton has confirmed that Alireza Jahanbahksh will miss this weekend’s trip to South Wales, which should see Anthony Knockaert reinstated to the starting XI. Pascal Gross and Davy Propper are also unavailable but should return to the side after the international break.
Brighton have their back-five to thank for their mini-winning streak which saw them earn three points against West Ham, Newcastle and Wolves. If the Seagulls can take the lead at Cardiff, they should be optimistic about their chances of gaining another three points after their previous three victories were secured with a single goal. Recently, Brighton have had to deflect a barrage of attempts to earn their points with opponents attempting 83 shots over the last four fixtures. Burnley were able to accumulate points in similar circumstances last season, and Brighton are showing comparable resilience so far.
Seven of Brighton’s twelve goals have been from set-plays and penalties so far, which has, fortunately, become a reliable route to goal given the team’s underperformance in open-play. Centre-backs Dunk and Duffy are the main protagonists and have been able to replicate their defensive aerial dominance by getting on the end of deliveries at the other end of the pitch.
In the prolonged absence of Gross, Brighton’s control of possession has faded, and Hughton has expressed his desire to find a remedy. Solly March has been occupying Gross’ number-ten position but has struggled to emulate Brighton’s German talisman, who had been so effective at linking the midfield to the attack in the past. March has, perhaps, been too keen to turn and run at his marker rather than recycle possession which has allowed the opposition to pin his teammates back when he is dispossessed. Chris Hughton may try to overcome the problem by adding an extra conventional central midfielder to the side this weekend, with Yves Bissouma, the obvious candidate. The Malian may partner Stephens in a deep-lying position to allow Kayal greater freedom to battle for turnovers of possession, though Bissouma also has the mobility for the advanced role.
Chris Hughton will be asking for more from his wingers, who have provided a league-low number of crosses after eleven games. Knockaert may have returned to the starting XI regardless of a minor injury to record-signing Jahanbahksh, but the Frenchman is technically proficient and should provide a better outlet for Brighton to progress the ball forward. Greater cohesion is required among Brighton’s attacking players to allow them to combine efficiently, especially as the repressed nature of their two central midfielders means that Brighton tends only to attack using only four players; two wingers, a central striker and one central attacking midfielder.
The contribution of Glenn Murray is lessened in away matches where the veteran finds it harder to involve himself in the game. Hughton may experiment with now fully-fit Florin Andone or Jurgen Locadia who offer improved movement to link creatively with the midfield.
Predicted lineup: Ryan, Bruno, Duffy, Dunk, Bong, Stephens, Kayal, Bissouma, Knockaert, Izquierdo, Murray
Watch out for: Duffy and Dunk’s old-school approach to defending, they are among the most committed centre-backs in the league and make an absurd number of blocks.
Prediction: Cardiff 0 – 1 Brighton
Brighton’s defence have proven their ability to soak up pressure on their goal, so the hosts should aim to play with a similar high-tempo that was evident in their victory over Fulham to overwhelm the visitors. However, a year’s top-flight experience and a compact defensive structure should enable Brighton to keep Cardiff at arms-length. Both sides are physically strong in central areas and aerially dominant at dealing with crosses, but the visitors are clinical and should be better equipped to utilise openings on the wings.
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