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Albion Analytics: Season Preview Part One

Albion Analytics takes an in-depth look a the numbers ahead of the beginning of the 2021/22 campaign.

By Liam Tharme • 09 August 2021

By Bennett Dean
Enock Mwepu will be aiming to make an impact in his first season with Albion.

The Seagulls are preparing for their fifth consecutive season in the English top flight, a club record for the number of years spent in the highest tier, eclipsing the four seasons in the old first division which ended with relegation in 1983.

Brighton finished the 2020/21 season with a joint-club record 41 points, matching the total they managed in the 19/20 campaign, though they did finish an outstanding 13 points clear of the bottom three last season. You can read about how the last two seasons compare statistically here.

An investigation into tactical trends from the last Premier League season and this summer’s European Championship offers some insight as to the effect of the pandemic, the congested fixture schedule and behind-closed-doors games last season, as well as the state of play ahead of the new season.

On average, per game in the last Premier League season, each side pressed opponents 141 times. That average is the lowest since Brighton's inaugural Premier League campaign (162, 173 and 145 across the three seasons prior), with the Seagulls marginally below the league average, pressing 136 times per game, though it must be remembered that they had the majority share of possession on average, giving them fewer opportunities to press.

The 2020/21 season saw 602 fewer tackles and 186 fewer yellow cards than the 2019/20 campaign, with only the 2004/05 Premier League season seeing fewer yellow cards per game. Albion's Yves Bissouma did his best to maximise the tackle numbers, winning a whopping 74 of his attempted 114 tackles – only Tottenham’s Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (82) tackled more successfully.

Brighton are certainly following the Premier League's passing trend, Last campaign saw a record number of passes per match (945), with the game average for passes now over 200 more than in the 2003/04 season – pass completion rates are also at an all-time high, with a greater number of 10-plus pass sequences clocked last season compared to 2019/20.

Albion clocked almost 50 more 10+ pass sequences (in open play) and their per-game average of 410 passes is around a hundred more than what the Seagulls averaged in their debut Premier League campaign, with a superior pass completion rate now too. Steven Alzate’s match-winning goal at Anfield and Dan Burn’s memorable strike to seal all three points versus Manchester City both came from sequences of over 10 passes.

Interestingly, the frequency of headed shots and goals (and conversion rate of such shots) increased in the Premier League last season when 170 goals were headed home in total, accounting for just under 17% of all strikes. Such a rise was reflected at this summer’s European Championship, where a competition record 27 headed goals were scored. Lewis Dunk headed home four times for Albion last season, a total which only three players in the league could better, with Brighton only netting seven such strikes all season, a total that bettered just four teams.

The return of goal-of-the-season winner Danny Welbeck could help raise that number next season. Albion's top non-penalty goalscorer was the only men's player at the club last season to score with his head, left and right foot, and Welbeck has netted seven headed goals from 44 shots (worth 6.8xG) since the start of the 2014/15 Premier League season.

Fans will likely remember the skyrocketing of scoring at the start of the season, with the highest ever goals-per-game four-week span occurring in the competition’s history between 12th September and 9th October when games saw 3.79 goals on average.

Brighton's four fixtures in that time saw 18 goals. However, scoring rates eventually calmed down, with the total goals count (1,024 – 2.69 per game) lower than the past two seasons. Albion broke club records last season for most goals scored (40), fewest goals conceded (46), most clean sheets kept (12) and most different goal-scorers (15) in a Premier League campaign.

The introduction of Robert Sanchez was critical in ensuring those defensive records were achieved, with the Spaniard recording a top ten (in the Premier League) save percentage (71.3%) and conceding just a goal-per-game on average, among the top four best Premier League goalkeepers. Sanchez will need to replicate such performances next season if he wants to reach similar clean sheet figures, as this summer’s European Championship set a new highest goals-per-game record, with 2.78 shots being scored in such fixtures. This was also the first time the average had increased from the previous tournament since 2000.

Shots and goals from counterattacks both dropped in the 2020/21 season (versus 19/20). In the 19/20 campaign the Seagulls shipped 3.6 counterattacks per game, with 42% leading to shots. Such numbers dropped to under two counterattacks conceded per game, with 38% leading to shots. Set pieces have dropped as a goal source too, with less than 20% of goals coming from dead balls, a record low.

Only 49 goals (less than 5% of all goals) were recorded from indirect free-kicks last season, another all-time low – since data was first recorded in the 2005/05 season. Direct free-kicks followed this trend, with a new league-low of 13 last campaign, under half of the season average (27.4) across the last 17 seasons. Courtesy of doublepass data, such trends have followed the Euros, where just 12% of goals came from free-kicks and corners, an interesting drop given the value of dead balls at the 2018 World Cup.

Again, Albion are trend-followers here. Having netted two direct free-kick goals (Gross v Everton, Dunk v Liverpool) in the 19/20 campaign, the Seagulls failed to score from their 14 free-kick shot attempts. Likewise, they recorded a club record-low number of shot-creating actions (65) from dead ball situations, with the Seagulls’ five goal-creating actions from dead balls their second fewest in any Premier League season to date (worst was three goal-creating actions from dead-balls in 2017/18).

A possible explanation for this trend is the congested fixture schedule, as reduced time between matches offers less training time to work on set piece routines, in addition to the added fatigue and subsequent recovery required. 

Decreases in set piece prowess may not be the worst thing for Brighton, who conceded 31% of their goals last season from set pieces – the fourth highest in the league. Only four Premier League sides conceded more goals from corners than Brighton (9) last season.

Penalties were crucial last season, with a Premier League record 124 awarded and a whopping 82.2% scored – this is comfortably above the average rate of around 76%. Penalty kick goals accounted for 10% of all goals scored last Premier League season, with over 100 converted from the spot for the first time in the competition’s history. At the Euros, nine penalty kicks were scored, accounting for 6% of goals.

Such trends are surely linked to VAR and the added scrutiny of defending with 14 penalties awarded for and against Brighton (yet another club Premier League record) last season, with just six sides having single digit totals in this metric. Unfortunately for Brighton, their spot-kick misses at the Hawthorns earned them an unwanted Premier League first.

In part two we preview Brighton's opening fixtures and consider data in player recruitment.