Why can’t Brighton score?

Graham Potter’s Brighton have been a big topic of conversation this season. Understat’s expected model says that Brighton should be 3rd in the league. They are expected to have scored 41 goals but have only scored 26 and they’ve also conceded 4 more than excepted.

Yesterday, this tweet from Harry blew up. I’m sure he’s bored of talking about it, but I’m going to. Harry received a lot of abuse for it and I was a bit confused why everyone was freaking out. A lot of the replies were very hyperbolic, saying that Brighton shouldn’t win penalties because their players can’t score them, that’s not what the tweet’s about. From speaking to a few people, I think people mainly disagree with the last sentence but before that is okay.

What Harry is trying to do though is find a solution to the problem. Some people think that Brighton can keep playing as they are and eventually they’ll start scoring because xG says so. I disagree with this as something has to change, Brighton players have no confidence and moral must be low within the club.

Insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results

Without trying to speak for Harry, I think the point is that something needs to change, not to stop creating chances with high expected goals but attack in a different way. Fall back on fundamentals and build confidence in the team.

I also think that finishing is viewed too simply and as a single thing when finishing is really complicated and every scenario is different and there are lots of different types of finishes. Decisions have to made in a split second so it needs to become habit and unconscious decisions. I’ll get onto this a bit more later but I think finishing as a skill can be oversimplified.

For example, you have a youth striker is a decent goal record with good instincts in the box and is good in 1v1s with the keeper, great on the counter and good in the air. But, he’s poor at volley’s and hitting fast cut backs though. Is he good at finishing?

Going back to the tweet, it suggests that if you’re not good at one type of finish, then don’t create those chances. This is true but is an oversimplification in itself because it’s not like Brighton are only creating cut backs.

While I think that Graham Potter is a very good coach, this situation is a tough one to solve and I don’t think he could have seen it coming but it is his job to solve it. I watched Tifo Football’s video on Sam Allardyce’s relegation survival strategy and I think it’s relevant for Brighton, and my potentially hot take is that I think Allardyce would be able to keep Brighton in the Premier League if he took over tomorrow. Note that I’m not saying Potter should be sacked.

So far, that’s just some ideas but I want to look at the actual problem and then see what possible solutions are.

Brighton’s Shots

Penalties — 6.1xG 5G
Corners — 5.0xG 3G
Set Pieces — 2.1xG 1G
Open Play — 28.5xG 17G

So they’re underperforming across the board but we’re going to focus on open play. But, I spoke about Allardyce before and with the amount of big centre backs they have and Groß as a very good set piece taker, you’d expect a better return from set pieces. I don’t know if they have a set piece coach but that would be the first thing I’d invest in as a quick way to improve the team.

Data from @fbref

This table is sorted by non-penalty xG this season, this is before their loss against Allardyce’s West Brom. As you can see, their top five players for expected goals are all underperforming and you’d expect more from them. Jahanbakhsh, Webster, Lallana and Burn should have scored but is less of an issue.

In the 2019/20 season, Maupay and Trossard were at 0.89 and 1.06 xG efficiency respectively, so while Maupay is underperforming again this season, but by a greater amount.

Football is a game of small margins, and the team that makes marginal gains and takes their chances wins. Brighton have been really unlucky but I think it gets to the point we’re at now where you need to analyse the issue rather than just putting it down to bad luck.

Video Analysis — Maupay’s Finishing

Like several other people on Football Twitter, I’ve taken a dive into the video and gone through Maupay’s shots from this season in the Premier League.

Looking at his shots with his feet, I watched 43 shots from this season. His finishing and decision-making in the final third was poor. He can be quite casual at times and while his movement was good, as well as his touch and control, he did pretty poorly overall, which isn’t a surprise to you or me. I took some stats about his shots, note that they’re not going to be completely accurate and some are a little subjective.

46.6% of his his shots were blocked, which is a very high rate. A metric I measured I call ‘shins’ is basically whether there is a defender directly in front of them within a metre or two when they shoot, hence they’re shooting into the defender’s shins. For Maupay, 53.5% of his shots were at shins. This is the result of poor shot selection, not being in enough space and is also a result of the types of chances being created. I’d like to compare this to other strikers in future but I don’t have the data right now.

His shot locations were okay although he took 10 shots from outside the box and they were all pretty poor. His ball striking isn’t good enough and didn’t challenge the keeper. There are a few parts of this though: shot power and where in the goal the shot is aimed. Of his 18 shots that made it towards goal, 10 with at the goalkeeper, he only forced the keeper to make one decent save.

For power, I used a 1–4 rating. I gave 48.8% of his shots a 1, meaning they had no power. 44.2% got a 2, meaning okay power. 7.0% got a 3, meaning good power, and he didn't get a 4.

I also looked at the height of the shot, using a 1–3 rating. 1 is the bottom third of the goal, 2 middle third, 3 top third, a 4 meant it was over. 76.7% were given the lowest rating, and were basically all along the floor. Only 4.7% were high up, 9.3% were over the bar. Obviously the height and power values are subjective and not very scientific but they’re not miles off.

Finally I measured which part of his foot he used. 51.2% of the time he used the inside of his foot, only using his instep 37.2% of the time.

Also, 41.9% of his shots were first time shots and all four of his goals were too. Three of his goals came within the 6 yard box and one from the danger zone (centre of the box between 6 and 18 yards).

So from these 43 shots, I thought that Maupay got into good positions. He used the inside of his foot too often and his ball striking was poor, he didn’t generate much power and didn’t challenge the keeper much. And I think he didn’t use his instep enough and should have tried to generate a lot more power on his shots. While there was some very good defending to block his shots, too often he shot at shins.

While the blocked shots and shot selection is partly Maupay’s fault, there were also a lot of time where Brighton lacked numbers in attack and he didn’t have much alternative.

For example, here you’d expect a runner on the right so he can either shoot, take on three defender and then shoot or try a pass through, or pass back/sideways.

Above you can see two examples of shooting at shins while having potential passing options.

This is him going for a backheel with three players lined up to block/save it.

In this example, in the first photo you’d expect him to shoot at that moment. Instead he cuts inside onto his weaker foot and the shot ends up coming in the second photo with three blockers right in front of him plus the keeper.

I think that there is a question about expected goals here. Expected goal models will give similar if not better expected goals value to the second photo than if he’d shot in the first photo, even though we can see that he the first photo is a much better shooting opportunity. I know StatsBomb collect defender position data, I don’t have their data to compare. But, on a general level, I believe that Maupay’s chances are being overestimated by expected goals because of blockers. On top of that, his finishing and ball striking is poor and needs to be better.

So while Brighton can dominate and have good control of games, seeming the better team, I think that the expected goals side of it is still valid but it’s less extreme than it appears. Therefore I don’t believe that carrying on the same and hoping that expected goals regress and they start scoring is the solution.

I’m not trying to draw any huge conclusions about Brighton from just Maupay’s shots, ideally I’d watch the shots of Groß, Trossard and Welbeck too as well as full matches to see more about their attack in general but for now I’m talking just about Maupay. If there’s interest then I can look further into it.

Fixing Brighton

This is where we come back to tweet at the start of this article and trying to find a solution. I’m not a top level coach, for good reason, and this is a tough question to answer. But, I think it’s clear that something needs to change.

As I said, I think that Allardyce could sort them out. But while I don’t want Potter to leave, I think that seriously adapting his strategy for the remainder of the season is a possibility. Then he can strengthen the team in summer and build his style back up. It’s still possible to play with some of his key principles but I think taking the game to basics with a focus on fundamentals would be effective.

For example, he could switch to a 4231 or 442, sort out any defensive issues, perfect set pieces and change the style of attack, by getting more support, attacking with more width and getting bodies into the box.

But building confidence is key. Potter could come into training tomorrow as if he’s a new manager. Change up their whole routine and setup. As if they’re a new team under a new manager. Because they’ve shown they could be a great team but at the moment are failing and I think a big shake-up is needed.

This is, of course, an oversimplification but to do a full analysis and how I’d look to do it would require a lot more research and another article, which I might do in the future. But for now I want to keep this on topic.

But overall I hope that I’ve pointed out the issues with Maupay and I think that expected goals could be overestimating their attacking chances.

Football Analyst | Scout | Writer | Contact - lukegriffin99@gmail.com. @GriffinFtbl