Graham Potter‘s appointment as Brighton and Hove Albion head coach is an intriguing prospect for the Seagulls’ fans and Fantasy managers alike.
The former Swansea City boss has signed a four-year contract with the south coast club and replaces Chris Hughton at the helm, following the much-liked manager’s departure a week ago.
Brighton had only just avoided the drop to the Championship after a run of three wins in 23 top-flight matches and many Fantasy managers will still be scarred by the Double Gameweek 34 failure in which Albion slumped to chastening home defeats to Bournemouth and Cardiff – even if they did manage to keep an unexpected clean sheet at Molineux days later.
The dismal attacking football on offer (35 goals in 38 games, the worst of the surviving Premier League teams) and a lack of clean sheets (seven, only Fulham and Huddersfield Town recorded fewer) served to make Brighton assets a pretty unattractive proposition, even if many of us got caught up in the Double Gameweek fever regardless.
The appointment of the more progressive, forward-thinking Potter is obviously a gamble but the hope from a Fantasy perspective is that the ex-Ostersunds manager can at least boost the appeal of Brighton’s players and offer us a bargain or two – particularly as many of Albion’s attack-minded FPL assets are likely to drop in price next season.
We’ll analyse the new Albion manager’s history and managerial style in the article below and hear directly from Mat Davies, Head of Football at Wales Online, who has seen plenty of Potter’s Swansea in 2018/19.
What is Potter’s background?
A defender by trade, Potter’s fairly unremarkable playing career took him to 11 different clubs, with eight appearances for Southampton in 1996/97 being his only top-flight experience.
Calling time on his playing career at the age of 30, Potter gained a degree in social sciences as well as a masters in leadership and emotional intelligence – a hint at the unorthodox managerial approach to come.
His coaching career began in earnest in 2010 at Ostersunds, a little-known club playing in the Swedish fourth tier.
Potter swiftly guided the minnows to three promotions in five seasons and a place in the top flight for the first time in their short history.
Ostersunds finished a commendable eighth and fifth in their first two seasons in Allsvenskan, with Potter steering the club to a Svenska Cupen (the Swedish equivalent of the FA Cup) win in 2017 despite their financial limitations.
Their Europa League 2017/18 campaign caught wider attention as they saw off the likes of Galatasaray and PAOK (as well as qualifying from a group that included Athletic Bilbao and Hertha Berlin) en route to a round-of-32 meeting with Arsenal, who defeated the Swedish minnows on aggregate – but only after losing to Potter’s troops 2-1 at the Emirates.
Appointed manager of Swansea in the summer of 2018, Potter oversaw a tenth-place finish in the Championship and a run to the FA Cup quarter-finals (where they nearly defeated Manchester City) despite the Welsh club being restricted by financial constraints.
What style of football does Potter use?
Fantasy managers can likely expect to see a bit more attacking ambition from the Seagulls this season, although Potter’s tactical fluidity is a stark contrast to Hughton’s religious use of a 4-3-3 and his line-ups may be more difficult to second-guess as a result.
Wales Online’s Davies said:
He chops and changes. Guessing a Potter starting line-up was like picking the right lottery numbers. That says a lot about Swansea, too, mind. But Potter likes to keep players – and journalists – guessing.
He likes to rotate but Swansea’s squad was so threadbare last season he wasn’t able to all the time. He chopped and changed his goalkeeper throughout the season, which tells its own stories about the stoppers in South Wales.
Potter largely favoured a 4-2-3-1 at Swansea but had trialled a 4-4-2, 3-5-2, 4-2-2-2 and 4-3-3 throughout the campaign and his unpredictability with tactics – both before and during games – is perhaps not what we want as Fantasy managers, even if it is to his credit as an innovative coach.
Davies said of Potter’s year in the Championship:
He’s quite a fluid manager, adapting to his opposition but his favoured formation with Swansea this season has been 4-2-3-1. He has gone with a back three/five on other occasions but a 4-2-3-1 is what he likes to play.
He has brought about a return to Swansea’s free-flowing football. His Swansea side dominated possession, hogged the ball but moved it a lot quicker than managers like Brendan Rodgers. He prefers his players to get the ball moving forward as quickly as possible. He likes to see his side attack, play out from the back and work teams over. When it works, it is extremely effective and very easy on the eye.
Former Celtic striker Henrik Larsson, who encountered Potter while working for Helsingborgs, said of the new Brighton boss last year:
The way he is able to change his pattern of play during games is so impressive.
I remember scouting them when I was at Helsingborg. They played all different kinds of systems, starting off a match one way, and then halfway through they started playing a different system, and then they ended up with a third system. And all the players knew exactly what they were doing.
Potter’s discussion of his tactics after the win over Galatasaray shows the level of thought put into his approach.
Niclas Lidstrom, from the Ostersunds media department, said in a recent interview with the Argus:
Graham had some ideas of how to play football with high pressure, with a lot of the ball, build from the back through goalkeeper to defence to midfield to the strikers.
You never knew before a match what line-up he would play. He changed the team all the time. He wanted to see players in different positions.
Potter himself promised more positive football upon his appointment at the Amex, saying:
What has gone on before is a lot of really good work but my job is to try and improve on it. We try and play football in a positive way. Any team has to be defensively organised, but you have to look at the attributes of the players and play to their strengths.
A Brighton side that has been used to Hughton’s more pragmatic managerial style might take time in adjusting to Potter’s more fluid, possession-based approach.
Swansea were top for pass completion in the second tier last season and second only to Leeds United for possession – Brighton were 16th and 17th for those two statistics in the Premier League in 2018/19
The Swans only scored seven goals in their first nine Championship games last season but their record in their final nine fixtures (five wins, three draws, one defeat, 19 goals scored) showed that Potter’s methods were being understood by the end of 2018/19.
It may be, then, that Fantasy managers have to play a waiting game with Albion as we see how successfully Potter’s ideas are being carried out.
Long-term there are players to watch, particularly if Potter sticks with the 4-2-3-1 set-up that he rolled out at Swansea.
Pascal Gross would be one candidate, with the German midfielder surely set to drop from a starting price of £7.0m in FPL based on his output in an admittedly injury-ravaged season.
Gross has been more withdrawn in Hughton’s 4-3-3 set-up this season and a more advanced role during open play would only complement his threat from dead-ball situations.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh will surely drop in price, too, after a hugely disappointing debut season in which he didn’t register a single attacking return.
Fluidity in the attacking positions has been a hallmark of Potter’s tactics at Swansea, with the new Brighton boss liking his wingers to interchange and cut inside.
Albion are well stocked with wide players and it will be interesting to see how much more Potter can extract from the likes of Jahanbakhsh, Solly March and Anthony Knockaert – if indeed he chooses to retain their services.
We can perhaps expect Brighton’s full-backs to offer more in the way of attacking threat, too: Connor Roberts registered 40 shots (five of them were goals) and 48 key passes from full-back/wing-back last season.
There are still question marks defensively, with Swansea conceding more goals from set plays than any other Championship side last season.
A total of 62 goals conceded was also the joint-most in the top half of the division.
There are also those who may not fit into Potter’s system, of course, and this could finally be the death knell for Glenn Murray as a first-team regular: Swansea attempted the fewest long balls of any Championship side last season and his lack of mobility may be an issue up top.
How does Potter handle the press?
Davies had positive things to say about Potter’s media personality, particularly when it comes to his helpfulness regarding team news:
Very pleasant. He doesn’t give much away though, especially in terms of transfers.
He’s fairly open on injuries. He doesn’t hide much.
How busy will Potter be in the transfer window?
Potter’s history of working within a tight budget and with young players might have been significant regarding his appointment.
In one of his first interviews as Brighton boss, Potter said:
I’m not expecting a massive amount [in the summer transfer window]. There are some good players here and a lot of good work has already been done. My focus has always been on trying to help the players who are already here to improve.
It’s the old cliché – it’s a clean slate. I’m looking forward to meeting everybody, getting to understand what they’re about, what qualities they bring to the group on and off the pitch. But clearly every window you want to try to help the team to get better.
Albion chairman Tony Bloom hinted that there would be some transfer activity over the summer but his mention of Potter’s success with “limited resources” could be significant given that Brighton splashed the cash last summer (reportedly in excess of £60m, a similar amount that Wolves, Manchester United and Manchester City spent) without much to show for it.
We have been very impressed with the work he did at Ostersund and recently Swansea, where with limited resources Graham has produced teams with high performances levels and an attractive playing style with great spirit.
We believe he and his team have the right combination of coaching experience and man-management skills to make the step up to the Premier League.
We were obviously very keen to ensure Graham was here at the earliest opportunity to review and provide input to our player recruitment plans as well as to oversee from the outset our pre-season preparations. We’re delighted to have achieved that.
Technical director Dan Ashworth will work alongside Potter in the player recruitment department, although the new Brighton boss will have the final say on any potential signings.
Free transfers and cut-price cast-offs could be the order of the summer, with Lidstrom saying of Potter’s work in the transfer market in Sweden:
He started to find players who could [play his system]. We used to call them The Leftovers because they were players other clubs didn’t want.
Graham had found a player from Mexico, a player from Ghana, plenty of players from different levels and different countries.
At Swansea, Potter’s hands were similarly tied.
Potter saw 20 players exit the club following their relegation from the top flight and started the season with only one senior centre-half (Mike van der Hoorn).
His ability to find bargains in the transfer market came in handy but it was his work with the youth set-up that stood out, with Daniel James excelling in his breakthrough season to the point that he is now set to join Manchester United in a £15m deal.
Brighton have themselves invested a lot of money into their academy and their under-23 team finished third in Premier League-2 last season, ahead of Liverpool, Manchester City and Spurs’ respective second-string sides.
Davies indeed suggests that Potter could be drawing from his resources in the academy in 2019/20:
The times I watched Brighton last season I was pretty unimpressed, to be honest. It was one-dimensional play and I didn’t see much progressiveness. But I guess that was because they were engulfed in a relegation scrap.
Potter will change that completely. He will get them playing. He will promote from within in terms of the academy and it will be interesting to see what he can do with a bigger budget.
Has he got the players at present to implement that style? I have my doubts.
The likes of Max Sanders and Viktor Gyokeres will, therefore, be optimistic of more of a look-in this season and could be budget names to monitor in FPL, especially if Brighton aren’t as active in the transfer market this summer.