What is stopping the Seagulls from soaring?

When Ben White’s £50 million move to Arsenal was officially complete, there would have been those in East Sussex who would have battled to hide their euphoria given what it possibly meant for Brighton and Hove Albion. Of course, this had nothing to do with seeing one of the best defensive talents in Europe take flight from the coast and on to the Emirates, but more to do with the fact that the club now had the money to finally invest in a striker that would help Graham Potter’s team put their expected goals nightmare to bed.

If this was a comedy sketch, the narrator would step in at this exact point after the right amount of silence had passed to say: ‘they didn’t.’ Indeed, Brighton continues to be, statistically, one of the teams in the Premier League that waste the most chances in front of the goal every season. This is, at least, the conclusion that the xG (expected goals) model has reached with the help of the leaders in sports data, Stats Perform.

For those in the dark about what xG is, it is a system that is used to measure if a team should have scored a goal based on the position of the player on the pitch when a chance was created. That is the layman’s version, however, in reality, it is an incredibly complex metric that is based on the outcome of thousands of similar situations during games in the past. Some of the factors that are considered when determining the likelihood of an xG are distance, the position of defenders, speed of pass, type of shot, and even shot angles.

It should be said that it is a system that divides opinion and, at first, xG as a way of interpreting if a team was underachieving or overachieving was largely shunned and ridiculed when it arrived on the football scene years ago. These days, however, it is used religiously during any type of football analysis show, so much so that an xG table runs alongside the actual league table as a way of showing which teams are expected to do better or worse in the future based on the xG model. In Brighton’s case, the xG table shows them to be one of the Premier League’s serial underachievers given their lack of composure in front of goal.

For this next stat, it would be remiss not to warn any Brighton fans of an upcoming trigger warning as we briefly reflect on the xG table for the 2020/2021 league season. The official league standings for the end of this campaign had the Seagulls in 16th place, just barely scraping to safety, whilst astonishingly, the xG model presented here at Sporting Life had their expected finishing position down as fifth, meaning that if Potter’s men had taken their chances, they would have been on a European adventure this season.

Don’t say you weren’t warned to look away but then again, there may be a large number of people who aren’t shocked in the Seagulls’ fanbase given that eight months on from that table being released, not much has changed in terms of the costly misfiring in front of goal for Brighton. For further proof, the top Premier League outright scorers market, provided by Unibet Australia, shows the alarming degree that the Seagulls continue to flounder chances as Brighton forward Neal Maupay is currently at odds of 100/1 to top the list at the end of the season. Now, when you consider how many chances Maupay is provided with during every game, he should, in reality, be challenging Jamie Vardy and Mohamed Salah for the golden boot.

With this in mind, you can understand how frustrating this cycle of events must be for Brighton fans. The good news is that in theory, this should be a problem that is solved with relative ease when you take into account that for all the suffering the xG model is compounding for the Seagulls, it is also showing very clearly that Potter has a system that works exceptionally well, and that he is a manager with extraordinary managerial acumen that is destined for the very top of the game.

Indeed, only Liverpool, Chelsea, and Manchester City – who are no strangers to enjoying a near-perfect season, as we’ve outlined here at News Anyway, have lost fewer games than Brighton this season, which indicates that the Amex side is incredibly hard to beat. Twelve draws in 22 games this season has, of course, caused further exasperation among matchday goers, but it is also evidence that with a change of personnel, one point can quite quickly turn into three. That is perhaps the best way to look at it for Brighton fans in terms of how best to cope with this conundrum that you feel is there to be corrected, but strangely, the club remains inactive in regards to providing an answer.

If we return to the top of the piece and the sale of White to Arsenal, we can look back on a time when Brighton had the opportunity to draw a line under this rather farcical repetition by buying a proven goalscorer. Instead, the money wasn’t reinvested and the Seagulls’ haven’t been able to soar yet with their wings remaining clipped for now.