When Brighton and Hove Albion captain Bruno steps off the pitch after tonight’s match, it will be his last in a Seagulls jersey. This sentimental final home game for the Spaniard however, means more to Liverpool then it does to him. Bruno can complete his career blunting Manchester City’s reign as Premier League champions and hand Liverpool their first league title in 29 years.
After all, Brighton has beaten Manchester United once, drew Arsenal in both fixtures, and held Liverpool to just 1-0 wins twice.
This isn’t the first time that the Premier League title race has dragged on till the last day and City are no strangers to final day drama. In the 2011/12 season, Sergio Aguero’s dramatic late winner over Queens Park Rangers saw them move level on points with Manchester United at the top of the table. But because of City’s superior goal difference, they claimed the title by a crucial, and cruel margin.
This season, City will once again play for the title on the final day where they will face Brighton. However, the outcome could be a very different one from 2012 as Liverpool sit just one point behind them. Brighton may be placed near the foot of the table but are not to be written off against last year’s Champions. For Liverpool to get their hands on the trophy, Brighton would have to at least draw this match against City (provided Liverpool win help themselves by beating Wolves at Anfield) and as shown with their previous game against a lackluster Arsenal at the Emirates where they drew 1-1, it is very much a possibility for the Seagulls.
When facing an offensive unit with the likes of Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva, the team has to be ready to absorb the pressure from the bombardment of attacks. Brighton may not have household names in defence, but they have capable ones in the form of Shane Duffy and Lewis Dunk. The two robust centre backs are Brighton’s best hope in avoiding defeat against City as their physical presence and positional awareness make them well equipped to combat the attacking threat posed by City. Dunk’s knack for playing long balls from the back gives Brighton an opportunity for the counter but we will speak of that later.
Fortunately for Brighton and Liverpool fans, Kevin De Bruyne is unlikely to feature after recently recovering from a hamstring problem. De Bruyne is one creative outlet missed by City throughout the season. They will also be aided further by Fernandinho’s potential absence due to a knee injury. The Brazilian has been the heart and engine for City since his addition to the squad.
Fernandinho usually sits in front of the defence and just behind the midfielders as an anchor where passes are connected through him. The rondo passing method has been a core tactic for Pep Guardiola and Fernandinho has impeccably structured his style of play around it. His movement allows the shape for the midfielders to be disciplined and is seen to be one of the most indispensable players for City.
Hence, the absence of Fernandinho will be felt and City’s possession-based style of play may be harder to conduct without their main orchestrator.
If Brighton are to sustain themselves against the Citizens, they’d have to get all 11 players behind the ball and be happy to see little of the ball. They could potentially line up in a 4-5-1 formation as they did against Arsenal and sit back patiently while waiting for an opportunity to counter-attack.
That is where they can really hurt City because they were vulnerable on the counter against Crystal Palace when they lost 3-2 at home in December and also against Lyon in the Champion’s League when the French club beat them at the Etihad Stadium 2-1 in the group stages. If Brighton were to follow this strategy, they might have a real chance at getting a result.
“It will be nice if we score first but we analyse Brighton and know how well they defend,” Guardiola said in an interview.
Offensively, leading the line is Glenn Murray, the experienced veteran who has managed 12 goals this season. On the wings, Solly March and Anthony Knockaert have the explosiveness and dribbling ability to wreak havoc on City’s fullbacks. Both March and Knockaert has a tally of 11 assists between them this season. Midfielder Pascal Gross is perhaps their most technically gifted player and will be useful in making key passes to kick start Brighton’s counter-attacks.
Of course, for all that to work, Brighton will need to count on Man City having an attacking mindset and playing high up the pitch, which is likely to happen seeing how City need a win to ensure that they win the league. In no other possibility would City play for a draw, but once a two to three goal margin is confirmed, Guardiola is likely to sit back to run out the 90 minutes and prepare for the acceptance speech for his second consecutive title.
Apart from Murray, their next highest scorer is their defender, Duffy. The main and only way Brighton should be attacking is through set pieces or long balls. Brighton have scored a number of goals through set pieces, crosses, and long balls this season and are a very physically adept side with players that are aerially dominant. This could cause City’s centre backs many problems should Brighton choose to play a more direct form of football. Man City will also have to stay sharp during set pieces if they want to prevent any goals from Brighton’s towering bunch of players.
Duffy, Dunk, and Leon Balogun are over 190cm tall. Gaetan Bong, Bernardo, Davy Propper and Jurgen Locadia stands between 185 to 189cm.
They have the potential to do some real damage to Manchester City’s title bid if they play their cards right against Guardiola’s near-perfect side. Duffy and Murray are ranked 6th and 9th in the league for aerial duels won and either might deal the final dagger to end the truce.
The hopes of Manchester City and Liverpool rest on the shoulders of Brighton. Most people would expect City to make a meal out of Brighton, but as seen with QPR who almost beat City on the final day of the 2011/12 season, these smaller franchises can cause big problems for the title chasers.
If Brighton do succeed in stealing a point from City and although they might not see silverware in the foreseeable future, the Seagulls will forever remembered as cult heroes.Leave a comment