Brighton’s Strategic Distribution of Players in the Final 3rd

Brighton winning the ball back in the opponent half is one of the most exciting moments when watching them play. This happened quite often during the game against Leicester last Sunday. Here, I take a look at how they attack in the final 3rd, linking it with how it allows quick “counter-pressing” and a good “rest defense” structure to win the ball as quick as possible.

Pressing Around the Ball

When progressing up the pitch by playing out from the back, they’d usually try to play through the gaps in between the lines which attracts the opponents to the center before playing out wide. Various rotations and overloads occur to gain advantage there as I’ve described in past articles and animations.

Once Brighton is able to reach the deep wide areas, they’ll try to have ideally 3 players, minimum of 2 and max of 4 players involved in the combination plays.

The 2 main tasks which needs to be executed are:
- Providing width to pull out opponent FB / WB
- Attacking the channel (assisst zone) or recieving in the pocket

These 2 tasks are often taken into action when using overloads after switching play. The latter task can be performed in various ways by players from various positions, making it difficult for opponents to deal with.

If a 3rd player can join in, they would be in a position to provide the ball holder with an option to pass back. This player would often position within the ball-side half-lane. It is extremely important to occupy this area as it serves as a protection for a potential counter-attack if the combination plays down the side were to fail.

Veltman (yellow circle) providing back pass route to GroB out wide

An option the 4th player could provide to make things a bit more complicated are lateral passing routes for the ball holder. If we were to set the player providing width as the ball holder, these 4 tasks provides him with an option to play passes forward (to the channel), back, and lateral.

Maupay dropping off to provide lateral pass route for Veltman with the ball out wide

Most importantly, it constructs a compact triagle / diamonds down the side to allow shorter distance for players to cover when couter-pressing. It also serves the role of closing down short passing options for opponents which leaves them less time to circulate the ball to reposition in their attacking structure, forcing them to go long.

Compressing the triangle super quickly to close opponents down

Another characteristic that aids Brighton’s pressure around the ball is the aforementioned overloads in between the lines. Players in this area can access both the opponent midfield line and the defensive line. It enables effective backwards pressing to create time for other defenders to get back into position or to pinch attackers into a 2vs1 situation.

Press backs while maintaining 2–3 structure at the back which I’ll touch on later.

A key player that executes this quite well is Neal Maupay. He is very quick in terms of reacting to the transitioning moments in the game and has the responsibility of pressing up to the opponent CB / GK as they pass back. Successful cover-shadows can make it even more difficult for them to play through Brighton’s pressing around the ball. Data from FBref shows how he has been constantly pressing in the final 3rd.

Maupay pressing CB while cover-shadowing opponent DM

Risk Management Away from the Ball

Patson Daka starting as Leicester’s CF means extreme threat for Brighton’s back line when getting counter-attacked. As Leicester shifted their system to have Barnes and Daka as their 2 strikers, risk management away from the ball was as important as applying aggressive pressure around the ball.

Brighton usually kept a 2–3 structure at the back, 2 CBs in the deepest line and 3 players in front of them filling in the 3 central lanes. FBs would tuck in to line up alongside DM to fill in the 3 lanes when defending with 4 at the back:

Even when they changed their system to 3 at the back (3–4–2–1) during 2nd half, LCB would usually position high alongside the 2 DMs which one of them (Moder) shifted a bit towards the right, constructing that 2–3 structure at the back.

This line of 3 gives Brighton enough players to recover 2nd balls securely, and put pressure on the opponent ball holder if they were to lose the 2nd ball. The 2 picture below shows how Brighton effectively deals with counter-attacks starting from both the centeral area of the pitch and out wide.

Burn (CB) compressing from left half lane to apply pressure on the ball on top of Lamptey pressing back
Lookman starting counter-attack from the side. As soon as he cuts in towards the center, Mac Allister is there to win the ball back

The 3 can have a big influence not only on stopping counter-attacks but also when attacking as well; the nearest player to the ball can provide the back pass route as mentioned previously in the wide combination plays and the DM can provide a central check point for better access to the far side (avoiding U-shaped ball circulation).

Easier switch of play via DM in the center of the line of 3

The 2 CBs in the deepest line would be very aggressive to go out of their position to press if one of the opponent striker were to drop off and receive the ball which Burn and Webster is exceptionally skilled at.

Webster pressing aggressively as Barnes drops off to receive pass forward

Detailed individual actions such as obstructing the opponent to make it more difficult for their striker to run in behind was crucial in preventing 1vs1 situation with the GK.

Burn making contact with CF (Daka) to not let him run straight to the space in behind

Leicester found some successful counter-attacking opportunities when the DM went out to press which opened space for players to receive in between the lines. As they’re extremely quick at facing foward and accelerating, the smallest gaps here was enough for them to progress forward.

Space behind Mac Allister (DM) used by Daka which gives him room to receive and accelerate

Since this is a field where it’s difficult to identify the smallest of details with limited camera angles, I have a lot I still don’t know about Brighton’s rest defense but it’ll be worthwhile looking at these aspects when watching future Brighton games.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. Just 2 articles I like which touches on various types of rest defense.

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