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Albion Analytics preview: Manchester City

Four-times Premier League champions Manchester City host Albion tonight.

By Liam Tharme • 13 January 2021

By Graham Hunt
Manchester City are fifth in the Premier League heading into tonight's game.

Brighton travel to in-form Manchester City seeking their first ever Premier League point against the Citizens. Of the so-called big six, City are the only side Brighton are yet to take points off in the Premier League.

Brighton have the chance to make history twice at the Etihad, as a win would be their first in a Wednesday Premier League game.  

Albion have drawn five and lost four of their previous fixtures on this day of the week, which included a 3-1 loss against City back in 2018. Davy Propper assisted Albion's equaliser that night, and he took his total to nine assists when he set up Solly March to fire home at Newport County on Sunday.

Davy Propper has made an impact coming off the bench in recent weeks.

The Dutchman has made a flying return to the side with two inspired appearances off the bench. In a combined 114 minutes against Newport and Wolves, Propper's numbers read: 58 of 69 passes completed, 8 of 12 accurate passes into the final third, four ball recoveries (3 in opposition half), five out of six defensive duels won and one assist.

Manchester City started the season slowly, taking 12 points from their opening seven matches – the fewest at that stage by a City side managed under Guardiola. They have kicked on massively since and go into Wednesday unbeaten in their last 12, having won their last five consecutive games in all competitions.

Such an impressive record hinges heavily on their outstanding defensive structure, which has shipped the fewest goals (13) and fewest Expected Goals against (12.9) of any side, while only two sides better City's seven clean sheets.

Albion are among the top eight for fewest Expected Goals conceded (20.6), with the numbers suggesting Potter's side have faced some unsustainably clinical finishing by their opponents according to shot quality.

City's defensive numbers look even stronger when you dive deeper into the data. They have conceded the fewest fouls (156), shots (117) and shots on target (34) in the league this season, with opponents collectively completing (excluding set pieces) just 81 passes and 17 crosses into the Manchester City penalty area – only Chelsea can better them in either metric.

Pep Guardiola's men have been defensively solid this campaign.

Diligent defensive numbers may be a result of a lesser press than what Guardiola's side had become renowned for. Their average of 46 final-third pressures per game last season has plummeted to 33, with their average of a defensive action every 8.5 opposition passes last campaign up to 10.5 this season.

Brighton have evolved as an away side in every Premier League season and are showing signs of doing so again this campaign. Including Sunday's penalty shoot-out win, Albion are unbeaten in seven of their ten away games in all competitions this season, winning four and drawing three. They have as many away clean sheets (3) as losses this campaign and have impressively scored twice in half (5) of their away matches.

Netting more than once is something Brighton are yet to manage in a Premier League fixture against City though, having lost all six previous meetings in this competition by an overall aggregate of 20-2. City have scored 15, conceded twice and kept four clean sheets in their last six games.

Pascal Gross assisted Glenn Murray to open the scoring against City on the final day of the 2018/19 season, the only time Brighton have led Guardiola's side in the competition. The German played the full 120 minutes in the win at Rodney Parade and in away games this season he has completed 11 of his 21 crosses, created ten chances and directly assisted three goals.

Wednesday's hosts have struggled in the goalscoring department this season, with Sergio Aguero playing just a handful of minutes and set to miss the game through self-isolation. The Argentine's absence may be a blessing for Brighton, since the forward has six goal involvements (5 goals, 1 assist) in his four Premier League appearances against Albion.

A total of 24 domestic goals is only good enough to place City 11th in the goals scored table, but 16 different players have netted in all competitions, the most of any side in the English top-flight. City are second in the league for shots taken per game (11.6) whilst taking the unwanted crown of most big chances missed, squandering 31 of the 44 they have registered in the league this campaign.

Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez (4 goals each) lead their goalscoring pack, with Graham Potter aware of their combined threat from the reverse fixture last season. Sterling netted three goals from five shots and completed four out of six dribbles, with Mahrez among City's top two for chances created (4) and final-third passes completed (19).

Within the City camp, Sterling (61) and Mahrez (49) are only eclipsed by Kevin De Bruyne (91) for shot-creating actions in all competitions. The Belgian has become the main talisman for Guardiola, who has consistently rotated line-ups to try and make things click without Aguero or Gabriel Jesus available.

De Bruyne assisted 15 times in 2020, the most of any Premier League player, but he has had to take on the role of convertor as well as creator this season, with only four Premier League players eclipsing his 47 shots taken. City's no.17 may be world-class at creating chances, but he has struggled at converting them this season and his three goals scored from seven Expected Goals is the biggest underperformance of any Premier League player this season.

That said, Albion will be aware of his world-class creative threat. De Bruyne set up Jesus for the only goal in the FA Cup semi-final between the sides back in April 2019, with the Belgian top of the league this season for completed passes into the penalty area (45).

City are less reliant on crosses to create chances and are among the bottom three for open play crosses completed into the penalty area (19), a metric which Brighton lead the league in (51). Instead, their individual brilliance has shone through with City second in the league for dribbles leading to shots (32). Raheem Sterling (8) and Phil Foden (7) are their main threats in this metric, with Stockport-born Foden the top under-21 in the Premier League this season for goal involvements (12) in all competitions.

The 20-year-old is not the only in-form left-footer on the pitch. Compared to performances in his three other Premier League seasons, Solly March is having his best campaign in terms of accurate passes into final third (2.5), shot-creating actions (2.95), tackles attempted (2.8) and won (1.7), yards dribbled per game (167) and fouls won (1.4). He has been involved in all of Brighton's last four away goals, playing a role in the build-up for the opener at West Ham and crossing for Lewis Dunk to poke home in the same fixture, while his fine finishes at Aston Villa and more recently Newport took his overall Albion goal tally to 14.

March's goal against Newport meant eight of Brighton's last 12 goals (all competitions) have been scored in the second half. City have only netted six times in the second 45 minutes of Premier League games this season, with Albion's total double that (12). This may be more reflective of their defensive abilities than a lack of firepower, since they have scored the most first half goals (18) of any side in the league, whilst they sit second for goals conceded (5) in the opening 45 minutes.

Percy Tau has netted 29 of his 45 career goals in the second half of matches, and the South African made his Albion debut as a substitute on Sunday: 

Tau has faced Manchester opposition before. He was part of the Bruges side who were knocked out by United in last season's Europa League. He has scored on his full debut for Anderlecht, Bruges and Union Saint-Gilloise, a record Albion will be hoping he maintains if he starts at the Etihad.

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