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Is Graham Potter the EPL’s most overrated manager?

Graham Potter remains a top candidate for the Tottenham job according to both the media and the betting odds. The Brighton boss is currently the Premier League’s flavour of the month.

Brighton’s pleasingly progressive style undoubtedly catches the eye, but it is a surprise to see a manager from a club rooted in the bottom third of the table so strongly linked to a big job. On achievement alone, Sean Dyche and Nuno Espirito Santo are far ahead of Potter, to name just two other Premier League managers who do not seem to be on Spurs’ radar at all.

For what it’s worth, Graham Potter himself has reiterated that his focus remains on Brighton rather than the increasing speculation that is linking him with an impending switch away from Falmer. He said recently: “We haven’t finished anything here, there’s a lot to do and I am really happy here.”

It has become a cliche to point out Brighton’s relative underperformance compared to their xG (expected goals). Some xG tables have shown Brighton sitting pretty in the top six, leading to widespread suggestions they are only a reliable striker away from being the complete package.

But let’s have a look at some facts. When Brighton sacked Chris Hughton two years ago, they had just finished 17th in the table. They were two points clear of the drop zone. That year, they only scored 35 goals in 38 games, with fans complaining about Hughton’s negative tactics. While Graham Potter has transformed Brighton’s philosophy, are they actually much more effective?

Converting chances has undoubtedly been an issue for Brighton during Potter’s two seasons in charge. They score at barely a goal per game on average, only a minor improvement on life under Hughton, and have drawn a blank in almost a third of their league games this term.

Among the teams to have kept clean sheets against Brighton in 2020-21 are Burnley, Fulham and West Brom. They even failed to score against an already-relegated Sheffield United recently, going down 1-0 at Bramall Lane. Sheffield United have only won five games all season.

Leading scorer Neal Maupay has hit eight goals this season and managed 10 in the previous campaign. He hit 25 Championship goals for Brentford to earn his move to Brighton, so his talent is not in doubt. Potter’s other attacking options include Danny Welbeck, who has never been particularly prolific at club level but nevertheless managed 16 goals in 42 England games.

Claiming an elite striker would transform Brighton is probably true. But the same could be said for most teams in the bottom half. At the clubs 12th or below, only Newcastle United’s Callum Wilson and Burnley striker Chris Wood have scored more than 10 league goals this season.

Brighton are often said to dominate games. One such example was at home to Wolves recently, a game they led at half-time but lost 2-1 after succumbing to two late goals following Lewis Dunk’s red card. But statistics do not particularly back this theory up. They rank in the middle of the league for possession, recording just over 50 per cent, a tally not much higher than Fulham.

They are in the top half for shots per game, but in the bottom half for shots off target per game. This does not seem to suggest profligacy in front of goal is a major factor in their results, though there are certainly games this season in which they have created enough clear chances to win.

Brighton are regularly described as upwardly-mobile, though by some metrics they are actually regressing under Graham Potter. This season, they have scored six times from set pieces, compared to 12 in 2019-20, when they were almost as prolific from set pieces as Burnley, who recorded 13.

This reduction may be partly explained by Shane Duffy’s departure – he scored five Premier League goals in 18-19 – but does not indicate that Graham Potter is extracting the maximum goalscoring capability out of his squad. Nor does goals from set pieces not mean a team has a reductive approach: West Ham top the table on 15 and most people would agree they are good to watch.

Brighton’s average possession is down this season, as is their pass completion rate, although only by small margins on both counts. The idea that Potter’s Brighton are improving fast and poised to make a big leap forward in the near future simply does not seem to be true at all.

Graham Potter has been described by Pep Guardiola as “the best English manager right now” and that may be correct, though he competes against only a few compatriots in the Premier League, three of whom are heading down to the Championship next season. For the record, Guardiola’s City have won all four of their Premier League meetings against the Seagulls during the last two seasons, including by 4-1, 4-0 and 5-0 margins. No wonder he loves playing Potter’s Brighton.

Potter’s title is head coach at Brighton, not manager, so it is unclear what impact he has on the club’s recruitment. While the Seagulls have not laid out a fortune on fees of late, their net spent over Potter’s two years at the club to date outweighs the likes of Burnley, Crystal Palace and Newcastle. They are three teams that could easily finish above Brighton for the second season in a row despite having far less-heralded managers, who are all coincidentally also English.

The statistics fail to match up with the sheer weight of Potter’s positive press and they do not suggest he has – yet – earned the chance to manage a club like Spurs. Given the seismic scale of the task facing Jose Mourinho’s successor, they would be better off appointing Harry Potter than Graham Potter.

 


 

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