Six things we learned from Brighton's friendlies with Nantes, Birmingham, Charlton and AFC Wimbledon

Albion have completed their pre-season programme and are now ready to go for their Premier League opener at Watford next week. What have we learned from the Seagulls' friendlies?

Saturday, 4th August 2018, 10:44 am
Updated Friday, 31st August 2018, 5:15 pm
Davy Propper in action against Nantes. Picture by PW Sporting Photography

Excitement building

It's fair to say this squad is the best Albion have had in the club's history.

There's competition for places all over the pitch and the summer signings will only enhance the quality in the team as Brighton bid to keep their place in the Premier League for another season.

Anthony Knockaert on the run against AFC Wimbledon. Picture by PW Sporting Photography

Chris Hughton has some key decisions to make and the friendlies have given players the chance to stake their claim to be in the starting line-up for the opening match at Watford on August 11. Of all the new signings, it looks as though only Bernardo will start at Vicarage Road.

Club record signing Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Yves Bissouma, who scored a stunning free kick at Birmingham, Leon Balogun and David Button will all probably be on the bench, while Florin Andone will be eased into the squad after an injury-hit pre-season.

Unfortunate timing

The groin injury Jurgen Locadia suffered in the 2-1 defeat at AFC Wimbledon came at arguably the worst time for the Dutch striker.

Yves Bissouma scores against Birmingham. Picture by PW Sporting Photography

When Locadia joined the Seagulls for a then club record fee of reportedly £14 million in January, he had a hamstring injury and did not make his debut until the FA Cup tie with Coventry in February.

He scored in that game - and again off the bench in the following Premier League match with Swansea - but found game time limited throughout the rest of the season.He started just three league matches and failed to net another goal.

This pre-season was a chance for him to showcase his attributes and push for a starting place.

Against AFC Wimbledon, the 24-year-old missed a couple of one-on-one openings he'd have expected to score and then pulled up with a groin injury just before the hour mark.

Chris Hughton said the striker was back in training following the win over Nantes last night but will the opening game at Watford come too soon for him to be back in the squad?

Youngsters get their chance

A number of Albion's promising young players have had game time in their pre-season friendlies.

Some will head out on loan again this season, while others will hope to push for a place in Chris Hughton's matchday squad.

Winger Viktor Gyokeres impressed for the under-23 squad last year, went to Austria with the first-team squad this summer and scored the winner in the 1-0 victory in a behind-closed-doors friendly with Nice. The highly-rated 20-year-old will get game time in cup competitions if he doesn't head out on loan.

Defender Ben White - who went to Newport County on loan last season - could also get his chance in matchday squads if there's injury or suspensions, although another loan move to get regular game time could be Albion's preferred option.

Aaron Connolly has also looked lively in pre-season outings and a loan move could again be what Brighton decide for the 18-year-old Irish striker this season.

On the way?

Several of Albion's promotion-winning squad look like they will leave the club this summer.

Sam Baldock and Jiri Skalak have left, Oliver Norwood - who spent last season on loan at Fulham - also looks to be on his way out and striker Tomer Hemed could also exit the Amex.

The Israeli frontman has scored 35 times for the club but found his chances limited last season after he received a retrospective ban following the home game with Newcastle in September.

He signed a new deal in November but then featured just nine times, including only four starts, as the form of Glenn Murray - and Jurgen Locadia's arrival - meant he was not even getting on the bench.

Richie Towell is also likely to depart, with Rotherham manager Paul Warne keen to take him back to the New York Stadium where he spent last season on loan.

Hemed to lead the line?

Despite Albion’s strength in depth up front, the striker role for the opening game could be open to Tomer Hemed after Glenn Murray was forced off early in the final pre-season game against Nantes.

Injuries to Jurgen Locadia and Florin Andone mean they are both unlikely to feature in the squad.

Hemed made his performance count at the Amex with a goal and an assist, and looks to have put himself in contention to lead the line at Vicarage Road, should Murray not be fully fit in a week’s time.

The Israeli has had a solid pre-season campaign, netting three goals - more than any other player in the squad - which will now give boss Chris Hughton a selection headache leading into the match against the Hornets.

Survival the number one aim

Albion's main goal this season will be to avoid 'second season syndrome' and ensure they are still in the Premier League this time next year.

The eight summer signings have perhaps raised expectation levels among fans slightly but a 17th-placed finish will still be a success.

There will be little to choose between the bottom ten to 12 clubs in the top flight, and Wolves and Fulham - both promoted from the Championship last season - have made some excellent additions.

Brighton have a tough start, with Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham in their opening seven games, but the key period of the season could be February to April when Albion face a number of the teams likely to be around them in the table.

The Seagulls will hope they have survival wrapped up before the final two games of the season against Arsenal and Manchester City.