The first matchday of the Premier League is in the rearview mirror after a weekend that saw at least one goal scored in every game. Of all the games, Brighton were near the top in terms of goals scored as they put four past promoted Luton.
Next up, they face Wolves, who showed a surprising amount of resiliency and character as they nearly upset all odds to get a win at Old Trafford against Manchester United.
What looked like a nailed-on three-pointer for Brighton before Wolves’ game has suddenly become a must-watch fixture, it’s like the fortune coins available on Lucky Panda you just got to get involved in some or the other way. Gary O’Neil is doing his thing again and Roberto de Zerbi’s men will need to be at their very best to get a win against a driven Wolves side.
WHEN & WHERE?
Where: Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton.
When: Saturday, 19th August 2023.
Time: 3 PM BST.
Referee: Andy Madley.
Assistants: James Mainwaring & Nick Hopton.
Fourth official: Dean Whitestone.
VAR: Peter Bankes.
Assistant VAR: Steve Meredith.
Both teams came out of the first matchday unscathed. Brighton have lost Moises Caicedo since that game but he didn’t play against Luton anyways as he prepared for his Chelsea move.
Jakub Moder is a long-term absentee due to an ACL injury. He is back training with the squad but his return to competitive action remains some way off.
Wolves don’t have any injury issues at all. Gary O’Neil came on the eve of the season starting and has expertly managed the workload of his players to avoid this scenario. Now he’s reaping the fruits of his planning.
They did play two days after Brighton so some changes could be in the offing but it’s still almost five days before this game kicks off so it’s unlikely that O’Neil changes much at the start of the season.
People could be forgiven for thinking that this will end up being a game of Brighton’s attack vs Wolves’ defence. However, as Wolves showed in their game against Man United, they are equally as capable of cutting through the opposition with their nifty dribbles and exchange of passes.
This game will be about numerical superiority in the midfield. Wolves overwhelmed Casemiro in the game against United when Mason Mount and Bruno Fernades pushed forward, leaving the Brazilian on an island.
As a result, he got bypassed repeatedly, and easily, as Wolves ran into the heart of United’s defence.
This was made possible due to Gary O’Neil’s unconventional 4-4-2. Mario Lemina and Joao Gomes were supported by Ait-Nouri, Nunes, Neto, and Sarabia as they overloaded the middle.
This will be difficult to do against Brighton. De Zerbi’s “box midfield” has gained huge praise from tactical savants and the passing triangles that it creates helps Brighton in luring the opposition press and then playing through it. This leaves the defence scrambling.
However, even for Brighton, it will be difficult to do because Wolves are unlikely to press high up the pitch. They will retreat into shape after losing the ball, challenging the Seagulls to break them down.
Therefore, this game will be an interesting tactical battle between two teams whose strengths and weaknesses cancel each other out. In such a game, a moment of individual brilliance often ends up deciding the fate of the fixture. That brings us to the next part…
Wolves have only made one marquee signing this summer, a fact which even led Julen Lopetegui to leave the club. However, if the game against United was any indication, that signing is going to be transformative.
Matheus Cunha arrived from Atletico Madrid and immediately became a nightmare for defenders on his first Premier League start.
He has a fearless style of play. Whenever he picks up the ball, he seeks to run at the defence and scramble their shape by beating players off the dribble. Only the finishing touches remained against United as he fluffed a couple of chances. However, they were created by his own enterprising play, without which Wolves would have had trouble releasing pressure.
Cunha is a one-man counterattack as Casemiro and Lisandro Martinez found on matchday one.
He will fancy his chances in the right channel of Brighton, faced with Paul van Hecke and James Milner. His trickery and dribbling could give the veteran Milner a headache and De Zerbi will need to devise a plan to safeguard him.
How do break down a defence which refuses to come out of shape to press? By leaving an electric dribbler on the pitch who can beat players and cause panic in their defensive shape.
Electric dribbles don’t come much better than Kaoru Mitoma. The Japanese international had a breakout season last year, notching seven goals and six assists in the league. He has started from where he left off last season.
An assist on the opening game of this season promises to be the first of many as he has been one of the main beneficiaries of De Zerbi’s attacking system.
Just like Brighton’s right channel, Wolves’ right is susceptible as well. Alejandro Garnacho of Manchester United failed to take advantage, repeatedly running into a cul-de-sac.
Mitoma should be different. Nelson Semedo is an attack-first defender while Craig Dawson, at 33, is not the quickest off the block. Mario Lemina will need to provide protection otherwise Mitoma will run riot.
Wolves predicted starting lineup: Sa; Semedo, Killman, Dawson, Ait-Nouri; Lemina, Gomes; Neto, Nunes, Cunha; Sarabia.
Brighton predicted starting lineup: Steele; Milner, Van Hecke, Dunk, Estupinan; Gross, Dahoud, March; Pedro, Mitoma, Ferguson.