Within the span of a few days, things have gone quite right for Fulham. The club started off with a win over Burnley and followed it up with a mostly smooth win over Exeter City in the League Cup. But for them to really establish themselves as a solid Premier League outfit, a win over Brighton and Hove Albion is critical.
This is not an unfamiliar opponent for the Cottagers. Chris Hughton is still managing Brighton and the standout players have been around since their last season in the Championship. And even after making smart purchases to best take them to the next level of their Premier League journey, they still are the same team from seasons past. Hughton still plays with a 4-4-1-1 formation that demands solidity in the back four and attacking wide players to create the space required to let Glenn Murray bang in the goals. It sounds like a simple game plan. But like all keys to a game of football, it’s about executing the game plan that makes this Brighton side so dangerous.
Last weekend, Burnley were seen as a tired bunch after trying to qualify for the Europa League group stages. This time around, Fulham will face Brighton outfit are a motivated off of an inspired victory over Manchester United at home, followed by a solid outing in defeat to Liverpool at Anfield. Now that they are no longer facing the big fish of the Premier League, they see Fulham as a perfect chance to collect all three points on Saturday.
For Fulham’s perspective, will they be ready in defense and in goal to prevent any form of Brighton’s attack coming in waves, even if it’s just for small chunks of the game? If the answer is no, does that mean that Slavisa Jokanovic will come up with another brand new back four? With Tom Cairney out, will Jean-Michael Seri be enough of a creative spark in midfield or will we be seeing Stefan Johansen feature this time around? Will we see the same front three as we did last weekend after such a strong performance? There are plenty of questions for Jokanovic to answer and let’s all hope that they end up being good enough to collect the win on Saturday.
With that in mind, here are three of Brighton’s key men to watch out for.
First up has been the rock in this Brighton side since his arrival at the club from Blackburn. Since then, the central defense pairing of Duffy and Lewis Dunk has been so vital for Hughton’s system that demands solidity at the back. Like Burnley, it is the foundation of which Brighton are built on and it is Duffy’s workrate that is the source of that. However, Dunk has still not played a single game this season due to injury, so Leon Balogun will be in his place instead. But with his pedigree as a 22-capped Nigerian International that was a part of this summer’s World Cup squad, Brighton won’t be skipping a beat in defense anytime soon, let alone on Saturday.
Next up is Mr. Been There & Done That up front in the 34-year old Murray. His radar encapsulates what to expect from the former Palace and Bournemouth player as he is nothing short of a no nonsense target man that will strike the ball with might with one kick. That’s not to say he lacks any skill for his advanced age. Just ask Man United. But Murray just knows what type of player he is and he knows how to be successful with the role he has. Fulham did a very good job bottling up Chris Wood (55 goals in 9,505 league minutes since 2013/14), but they will have just as tough of a task, at minimum, at doing the same with such a veteran presence with the same production (56 goals in 9,846 league minutes since 2013/14).
I could talk about the work rate of Dale Stephens in central midfield or the dribbling masterclass out wide that Anthony Knockaert brings every matchday. Instead, I’ll go ahead and talk about Brighton’s most creative player in the former German youth international. I know Brighton were probably wanting to line up in a more defensive shape, but I did find it odd to not see Groß starting instead of Yves Bissouma. The seagulls were able to stimy the Reds with just one goal conceded, but it took until Groß came off the bench in the second half for them to start showing any strong signs in attack.
With seven goals, eight assists and a club leading 82 key passes in 2017/18, you could understand why he is such a key figure to the side. To put things in perspective, no other Brighton player even reaches 40 key passes, let alone gets close to Groß’s production. I cannot see how this man doesn’t get the full 90 minutes this time around considering how both clubs will want this win heading into the International break.