Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder Dale Stephens believes that the side’s exploits last year in England’s top tier will stand them in good stead going into the 2018/19 campaign.
The Seagulls kick off their second season in the Premier League against Watford at Vicarage Road next Saturday afternoon, and the midfielder insists that the team will be better for their experiences last term.
He said, “I think we’ve got more belief in the squad this time ahead of the new season.
“Your first season can sometimes be a bit of an unknown, but we’ve had a good year and confidence is high that we can improve on what we did last year.
“Personally, I feel like I’ll be better this season having had the experience of playing against the top players in Europe and the world.
“It’s made me a better player and I’m excited to do it again this year – we have to improve from last season and we know we belong at this level now.”
Stephens played 36 of the team’s 38 league matches last term, becoming an influential part of Chris Hughton’s side – he reflected on the work that has been done in the close season at the club, pointing to aspects of fitness and conditioning as being key.
“Pre-season has been tough, and we’ve upped the energy levels this summer.
“We had the trip to Austria where we had three sessions a day and it was no secret how difficult it was – we know that to improve on last season we have to be better from the start of the campaign.
“That starts with being fitter and stronger – we’ve got good players here and if we can have good fitness levels you give yourself every chance.
“Our pre-season routine has been similar to last year, but we have to improve in every department to get better – we’ve had a lot of games during pre-season and some good games too.”
The midfielder and Davy Propper began the side’s final pre-season game on Friday evening as Albion beat FC Nantes 2-1 at the Amex Stadium.
Summer signing Yves Bissouma was then introduced during the second half, and Stephens highlighted the competition for places in his position ahead of the new season.
“We’ve got good competition in the centre of midfield, Yves [Bissouma] is an exciting talent and Beram [Kayal] is fit from the off this year so it’s good for all of us.
“It gives us extra flexibility and that’s something you need in the team – we’ve played that way for a number of years now but it’s also important that we can adapt to different situations too.
“His [Yves Bissouma] English has improved – he’s spent time with us and he’ll get there, I’m excited to play alongside him.”