As the FIFA World Cup has rolled on it’s been easy to overlook all the ongoings at the AMEX recently. But there’s been plenty of recent transfer dealings, which along with the release of the fixture list for upcoming 2018/19 Premier League season are getting me excited for what the new season will bring.
So, whilst there’s little science in it, I thought I’d have a look and see how the fixtures have fallen for Brighton and what we might expect from the months ahead.
I would break the season into five sections:
1. Games 1-7 – A tough start
2. Games 8-16 – First key point picking period
3. Games 17-23 – The seagulls might prefer to go south for the winter
4. Games 24-32 – Second key point picking period
5. Games 33-38 – The inevitable tough run-in
1. A tough start
So in a feat of wonderful symmetry the team we played in the final home game of last season, United, are first up at the AMEX in the upcoming season. This is sandwiched between two tough away games. Meaning our fourth game of the season, Fulham at home which is not until September, will likely be first game we will start as favourites. By end of September the Albion will have played 4 of last seasons top six, and whilst some will say it’s nice to get them out the way early, we should expect to be in the bottom 3 come West Ham at home in October (match-week 8). Cue the ‘bedwetters’ panic!
In all seriousness this could be a significant mental burden on the team if this happens. Playing catch up is tough and will be new to the Albion in the Premier League, having spent almost all of last season out of the bottom three, albeit at times by a very small margin.
2. First key point picking period
Therefore it’s will only be following the West Ham game that we can look at the table for the first time with any kind of significance. The second international break will follow that and after 8 games it will be a good time to reflect on what has gone by so far, and assess our chances and requirements for the remaining 30 games.
The West Ham game also begins a run of 9 winnable games, 4 of which are at home, including the first derby game of the season. This is ahead of another tough period, so these 9 games will be where the pressure could start to rise, particularly as has already discussed, points will likely have been hard to come by up to this point. The teams character and the clubs #together-ness will likely be tested, particularly if the home draws that persisted for much of last season continue here. However, I rate Hughton’s calm patience approach to endure this pressure period and overcome it.
3. The seagulls might prefer to go south for the winter
The outcome of those 9 games will affect in what mindset the Albion then approach what is a tough December and January period for the Albion including the FA Cup game(s) that follow in January.
January looks particularly tough, fixtures against Liverpool and United are sandwiched between potentially two FA Cup games. Definitely expect changes if we make round 4 as it is only a few days ahead of Fulham at home, a game most will expect to win.
4. Second key point picking period
Fulham at home is followed by two more winnable games that begin another key point picking period up to match-week 32. After a trip to Stamford Bridge in February there will then be a run of 5 more winnable games as we move into March and April which is often the period that makes or breaks the season. That is if you have still given yourself a chance by then. This includes winnable games against Cardiff and Huddersfield at home and the second big derby of the season at Selhurst Park, which could well be ‘must-win’ for both sides.
5. The inevitable tough run-in
The Final 6 games then include 3 of the top 6 and a tricky trip to Wolves. The other two at home to Bournemouth and Newcastle in this run will therefore likely be targeted. I’m sure Hughton and his team will be hoping we have enough points by then but the home crowd factor could be important. In the past, many teams including the Albion have been helped and hindered by home crowds at this point in the season. Either crumbling under the pressure, or spurred on by the atmosphere, but let’s hope this helps an otherwise tough run in. Which is ‘coincidently’ something we will remember from last season. Much as The Telegraph warned us would happen again.
Of course that final period could be more congested if certain teams go far in the domestic cup tournaments leading to fixtures being rearranged and making a tough run in even tougher. So keep your weekdays around this time free.
What does this all mean
It’s important in the Premier league to be realistic and realistically the Albion are once again aiming to finish outside the bottom three. To do this we need to aim to get a minimum of 38 points which is an average of a point a game.
Whilst the Albion took 7 points off the 12 games against the top 6 last season, all were at home and if we are being honest we caught those teams on a bad day. Next season we might not be so lucky, which makes it important to get your minimum points from those other 26 games. This equates to a required average points total of just under 1.5 points a game from those remaining games, which suddenly sounds more daunting.
Therefore, hitting form at the right times will be crucial to staying above the dotted line come May. As such, the way the fixtures have fallen will rely on us to hit form in those key periods of match-days 8 to 16 and 24 to 32. That said the games against ‘the rest’ in those tough periods will also be targeted and picking ourselves up from the type of drumming we got at Anfield on the last day of the season may well be required ahead of a must win match. For instance the home games scheduled within the end of season run-in against Bournemouth and Newcastle come after a potentially demoralising away trip to Tottenham.
Injuries and suspensions will also play their part too. Last season we were fortunate to not get many long-term injuries to key players as reported in The Argus recently. If for example, a combination of Ryan, Dunk, Duffy or Gross were missing during those period then we’d be relying on our second string to step up, something we were fortune to not require much last season.
Hughton’s management style depends on a level of consistency and stability, which is required for the solidity of the team structure that we relied on for our defensive prowess last season, conceding the 2nd lowest amount of goals outside the top seven. Therefore, any replacements will need to fit straight in like Kayal did for Pröpper so competently towards the end of last season.
All this is speculative of course, look at Burnley last season. The way they started by beating the then reigning champions Chelsea and drawing away at Tottenham, (picking up 7 points in their first four games as they went on from there to finish 7th) wouldn’t have been foreseen when looking at the fixtures and summer transfer dealings before the start of the season.
Of course, much will depend on a multiple of factors and uncontrollable events, but this quick run through has certainly got me in the mood for the season ahead. Let’s just hope the club continue to get their transfer dealing done as well as last season to give Chris and his team the best chance of staying up once again.