Monday, 31 December 2012
Where should Poyet be looking to strengthen this January?
The opening of the transfer window is just hours away and Gus Poyet has already been vocal about the need to spend big on a striker and re-shape his existing squad in other areas.
Fans are divided over exactly what needs to be done, although the general consensus is that a line-leading goalscorer is top of the list. They though tend to cost money, and a premium rate at that during the harum-scarum signing scrap that is the mid-season transfer window.
So where exactly do Brighton need reinforcements and where could the club benefit from moving players on?
Tomasz Kuszczak has been one of Brighton's best performers this season and is evidence that sometimes a club is better off paying higher wages to a free agents than spending big on transfer fees. Has the number one spot nailed down and it is no surprise the defence has looked more solid since he slotted into the team.
However, the Albion do not need both Casper Ankergren and Peter Brezovan in reserve. Both were originally signed as first choice keepers so, presumably, are on fairly healthy wages, albeit for what were at the time League One stoppers. Of the two, Ankergren will likely be on the higher take home and possibly more attractive an option to other clubs. Poyet would do well to part company with either of the two.
Verdict: Move on either Ankergren or Brezovan.
The Seagulls' defensive record has improved this season, although you would expect it to given the substantial wages paid out to Kuszczak, Bruno and Bridge. Calderon and Painter are probably sufficient cover in the full back areas for where Brighton are currently, so no new recruits needed there.
However, Adam El Abd and Gordon Greer have shown a lack of pace in the centre of the Brighton back four - something which is exploited more often when playing alongside rampaging full backs like Bruno and Bridge. At times they have struggled to cover the space left by particularly Bruno and also seem to be missing any dominance in the air.
Lewis Dunk is a talented and emerging third choice who can consider himself unlucky not to be getting a more regular run.
As harsh as it may sound, given the pair's excellent form in the League One winning season and solidity in many Championship outings, El Abd and Greer are probably not top six material.
And the side is also short of cover in centre defence if any of the three centre backs were to suffer a bad injury or suspensions.
Verdict: No need for new full backs but Poyet would be wise to look for an experienced, dominant centre half with a bit more pace to play alongside either El Abd, Greer or Dunk. Might involve moving on Greer.
If there is one area where Brighton seem well stocked other than between the sticks it is midfield. Poyet, it appears, love a midfielder. This season he has already added Andrew Crofts, Dean Hammond, David Lopez and Andrea Orlandi to his increased stable of central players. Young starlet Jake Forster-Caskey is due to return from a loan spell, while Matt Sparrow looks likely to depart for former club Scunthorpe if the Albion can agree a deal to pay off his contract at The Amex.
Flop Ryan Harley has left for MK Dons on loan while the future of star performer Liam Bridcutt is not clear, with rumoured interest from top flight teams.
However, even if Bridcutt does leave, Poyet should have enough talent to finalise a midfield three and stick with it. Hammond operated in the more defensive slot while at Southampton, while Lopez, Orlandi, Crofts, Stephen Dobbie, Gary Dicker and even Ashley Barnes can expect to compete to fill the remaining two slots. Dobbie particularly may benefit from a run of games at the attacking front of Poyet's preferred middle three system, with the manager himself talking up his talents as a replacement for injured Vicente rather than an out and out striker.
A lot rests on Vicente. If the Spaniard can return to fitness and play a part on the second half of the season Poyet probably won't need to spend on a playmaker. If not, Dicker is probably his best existing option as string-puller extraordinaire. A game-controlling midfield maestro may be on his shopping list.
Verdict: Rather than spending significant funds on another midfield player, Poyet would perhaps be better advised to work out his best combination. The squad will be poorer without Bridcutt should he leave, but it should be able to fill in the gaps.
With Poyet's preference for a 433 formation, the attack also includes those players played in wide positions, one of which has been heavily linked to a move away from The Amex.
William Buckley has been a shining light for the Albion since arriving from Watford for a then club record £1million and he would prove a tough player to replace if his rumoured move to Southampton goes ahead.
However, while Poyet's transfer record has been hit and miss in some areas of the pitch, he does seem able to identify talented wide players. Kazenga Lua Lua, Craig Noone and Buckley have all arrived under Poyet's stewardship, and all looked good additions to the squad.
Noone was sold for around £1.6million earlier this season and any offer of around double that for Buckley would almost certainly be accepted. If he does move, Poyet will have to prioritise finding his replacement.
In the central striking role Poyet has had a less impressive signing success ratio. Since losing Glenn Murray before the start of last season, the Brighton boss has borrowed both Billy Paynter and Sam Vokes in a bid to find a striker capable of holding the ball up and linking up play. Both were spectacular failures.
He also paid a significant fee for Will Hoskins, who has yet to be afforded a run in the team in his preferred centre forward slot, and Craig Mackail-Smith, the club's top scorer this season.
Much of the talk surrounding the transfer window involves Mackail-Smith being sold, with Norwich City and Leeds United both rumoured to be preparing bids. Anything above the £3million mark would surely prove tempting to Poyet and Tony Bloom.
However, Mackail-Smith's shot conversion rate is not far shy of the division's top marksmen and a lot will depend on whether or not the Albion can hope to bring in better. If not, it seems pointless selling him. Chris Wood was a target, but opted for Leicester City, and earlier in the season the Albion approached Queens Park Rangers with a view to loaning Jay Bothroyd, only for the striker to opt for a stint at Sheffield Wednesday.
If that is the calibre of forward Brighton are looking at, splashing the cash and paying over the odds might not be a sensible move. A change in tactics to accommodate the attacking talent already at his disposal might be a more attractive option.
Poyet has already signed Mackail-Smith, Hoskins, Dobbie, Barnes and the likes of Fran Sandaza and Chris Holroyd without really finding a successful striker to operate in his preferred system. Bloom may well think twice before loosening the purse strings yet further.
Verdict: In Hoskins, Mackail-Smith and Dobbie, Poyet already has a good base of attacking options. Any new recruit would be welcome but for them to be a success they would need to be coupled with a change in attacking emphasis throughout the team. Simply replacing Mackail-Smith with another centre forward would be blinkered and it might not be the time to pay over the odds on a risky signing.
Any Brighton fans expecting the likes of Rickie Lambert, Grant Holt or Kenwyne Jones to rock up at The Amex are dreaming. A change in style and a partner designed to get the best out of Mackail-Smith or Hoskins could drastically improve the Seagulls' chances for the remainder of the season.
However, Poyet should be careful not simply to spend for the sake of it. In the last window he siged Dobbie, but has hardly played him since. A repeat performance this time round might be prove hard to swallow for the Bloom.
Frustratingly for Brighton fans this window may be just as much about replacing players who leave as it is bringing new signings in to fine-tune the squad.