As the curtain fell on the 2018/19 English Premier League season, Brighton fans breathed a collective sigh of relief, having beaten the drop for the second year in a row. Despite this achievement the season can only be viewed as a disappointment, as the Seagulls managed only 36 points compared to the 40 they accumulated in the previous campaign. Even more concerning was the fact that the south coast side had failed to address their primary problem, namely their lack of goals; Brighton was one of only four teams to average fewer than one goal per game in the 2018/19 season. A plethora of signings during the summer of 2018, including the capture of Iranian international Alireza Jahanbaksh for a club-record fee, hadn’t been enough to redress this issue.
The first casualty of this stagnation was, predictably, the club’s manager Chris Hughton. Hughton’s tenure at Brighton had seen an emphasis on defensive stability and ‘parking the bus’, as his team sought to eke out low scoring wins and draws from strong premier league opposition. His replacement was the much more attack-minded Graham Potter. However, it would take more than a change in managerial philosophy to transform Brighton’s dogged, physical squad into a team capable of scoring regular goals against Premier League opposition. Potter had to ensure that his signings were astute; Brighton could ill afford any more expensive flops.
Meanwhile, a young Belgian by the name of Leandro Trossard was coming to the end of a more satisfactory season. He had led KRC Genk to their first Belgian Pro League title since 2011, netting fourteen goals during the campaign. This nose for goal would undoubtedly have been one of the primary reasons that Brighton swooped in for Trossard, acquiring him for £18m, pocket change in the current transfer climate.
Potter’s plan for Trossard has thus far proved to be for him to take up what had been Pascal Groß’ role as Brighton’s roaming attacking midfielder. Groß himself had been one of Brighton’s beacons of promise in their first season in the premier league, netting seven goals and eight assists. However, 2018/19 saw a dip in form for the German playmaker, whose progress was hampered by injury. The fact that Brighton created fewer than one ‘big chance’ per game made it clear that a new creative influence would be required for the team to really push on, hence Trossard’s arrival.
How has the 24 year-old performed so far, then? At first glance, his on-paper stats indicate a good, but not great, start to his Premier League career. In six league appearances, he has scored two goals and created another. However, upon closer inspection the picture improves. He has only played a full ninety minutes on one occasion so far this season, and a groin injury ruled him out for five games. These five games were largely disappointing for Brighton. They picked up draws against Burnley and Newcastle, and were defeated at the hands of first Chelsea, and then Premier League returnees Aston Villa. Their shock 3-0 victory over an ailing Tottenham during this period was the obvious exception.
Both of Brighton’s next two games seemed to be following a similarly uninspiring pattern, a lack of creative ingenuity against both Everton and Norwich left Brighton struggling to score against weak opposition for the majority of the games. The tables were turned on each occasion after the introduction of Trossard to the match. Against Everton, he injected some sorely needed playmaking threat to the Seagulls’ game, and the score line went from 1-1 to 3-2 in the 24 minutes in which the Belgian participated. One week later his impact was even greater, transforming a dull 0-0 draw at home to a struggling Norwich into a convincing 2-0 victory with a goal and an assist to his name.
Trossard’s ability to single-handedly alter the balance of a game is evident, and he is a statistically impressive player. However, where he truly shines is not on paper, but on the pitch. He exudes confidence on the ball, demanding that the game be played to his rhythm. Whenever Brighton attack with him on the field, he is inevitably involved in the build-up play every time. He has that special ability to create something from nothing. He is not without his flaws, though. He can be greedy on the ball, holding onto it for too long suggesting a lack of faith in his teammates. This ought to dissipate in time though, as he acclimatises to his new team. Leandro Trossard appears to be a crucial piece in the puzzle of Brighton’s Premier League longevity, but bigger fish will doubtless be coming in with offers for the Belgian sooner, rather than later. If Brighton can cling on to their new star player, mid-table comfort surely awaits.