Albion Analytics: How solid have Albion been defensively?

The numbers behind Albion's strong defensive record after 22 Premier League games.

By Liam Tharme • 07 February 2022

By Paul Hazlewood
Albion have conceded the fifth fewest amount of goals (23) so far this Premier League season.

After 22 games, Brighton have kept six clean sheets and conceded just 23 goals – among non ‘big-six’ this season, only Wolves have shut opponents out more frequently with eight clean sheets and conceded fewer goals (16). Comparatively, after 22 games of previous seasons, this is Albion’s lowest goals conceded tally by four (previous best being 27 goals conceded – 2017/18).

The Seagulls also wear the crown this season for tackles and are on the Premier League podium for final-third pressures and regains in the attacking third.

Notably, only Liverpool (2) have conceded fewer goals than Brighton (4) in the last 15 minutes of games this season, with Brighton only dropping a single point (at Aston Villa) from goals conceded in this timeframe, the joint-fewest of any non big-six side.

The Albion were undoubtedly decent defensively last season, setting club records (as a Premier League side) for clean sheets (12) and fewest goals conceded (46), with particularly improved form in the second half of the season.

That said, this season they have improved even further defensively. Their 2021/22 per-game averages for pressures (147 versus 136), final third pressures (40.1 versus 33.8), proportion of pressures leading to a turnover inside five seconds (32.2% versus 31.6%) and regains in attacking third (9.6 versus 8.4) are all improvements on last season’s numbers.

While the previous campaign did show a league-wide intensity drop due to a congested fixture schedule, it is evident that Brighton are a better pressing unit this season. The passes they allow opponents before recording a defensive action (PPDA) have dropped from 10.3 last season to just under nine this season, going from seventh to top five in the respective rankings.

Critically, opponents may be playing into Albion’s hands more, as goalkeepers are playing short goal-kicks 6% more frequently against Brighton this season than last and in open play this figure is around 4% higher, giving Albion more opportunity to press.

This trend may simply be the playing styles of newly promoted sides compared to the relegated trio, new arrivals (in terms of players or managers) or stylistic tweaks from teams trying to build from deep more.

More minutes for Alexis Mac Allister may have contributed, too. The Argentine has featured in a greater proportion of games this season (43% of available minutes) than last campaign (32.6%). Brighton’s No.10 is number one for pressures per game (24.5), proportion of presses leading to a turnover inside five seconds (39.1%) and tackles per game (4). He ranks inside the top 10% of all Premier League midfielders this season for those metrics.

Defending from the front has been a strength of Albion’s for a while now, but this season in particularly they have been strong at defending their own box. They are having around 5% more possession per game this season, so they are spending less time out-of-possession.

Everton (470) are the only non ‘big-six’ side to have allowed opponents fewer touches in their box than Brighton (520), with Albion among the top five sides for successful passes (160) and crosses (36) allowed into the box, but they do rank among the top seven for dribbles (106) allowed into the box, which may be down to the extent to which they face counter-attacks.

Even when Brighton are faced with deliveries into the area, they benefit from having the league’s best against crosses – Robert Sanchez stops almost 14% of crosses, an improvement of over double from last campaign (5.2%). The Spaniard’s save percentage of 76% is among the top four goalkeepers in the league, too.

It will be a welcome return for Lewis Dunk to the Albion side, as he tops the club charts for opposition shots blocked (15) and sits second for clearances (58) and aerial duels won (42/60).

As a team, Albion are posting better numbers this season (versus last campaign) in terms of shots blocked (4 versus 3.2), clearances (19.5 versus 18.5), tackles + interceptions (35.5 versus 27.9), aerial duel win rate (49.9% versus 47.8%) and average distance of shot allowed (18 versus 17.7 yards).

In the last of those metrics they post the best total in the league, forcing opponents, on average, to shoot from the edge of the box. Opposition hit the target less readily against Brighton (31%) than the league average (33%).

They defend well at important times, too – opponents have converted just 7.3% of shots to goals when Albion have been winning this season, the lowest they have managed in any season against Brighton.

This Premier League campaign, Brighton have conceded just four goals in 347 minutes when leading – one every 87 minutes, an improvement from one every 60 minutes in the two most recent league seasons.