Brighton short on form, but still hit high attacking notes
Seagulls counting on João Pedro's goals in Europe
Ajax v Brighton & Hove Albion
Thursday 9 November, 17:45
Live on TNT Sports 2
Between an extensive list of injuries and a challenging schedule, Roberto De Zerbi and Brighton aren't seeing things come off at the moment as easily as they once made it look.
At Goodison Park at the weekend, Brighton completed 778 passes to Everton's 129, and yet had to rely on a fortuitous own goal to rescue a point. The Seagulls attempted just seven shots for all of their possession, with their 0.51 xG their lowest in a match all season.
If you're looking for positives, however, then it should centre around the specificity of the opponent Brighton faced at the weekend. Before that game, De Zerbi's only previous meeting with Sean Dyche's Everton ended in a 5-1 home defeat back in May - the only time a Dyche-led side has scored five in a Premier League game.
Indeed, the Everton boss has shown he's able to neutralise Brighton's approach under De Zerbi - or at least make for an arduous game, where the Toffees are content to live without the ball. That combination of being compact, surviving long spells without possession, and being direct on the counter is a specific challenge which not many are able to present with success against the Seagulls.
Against Ajax, things will be different in more ways than one. The Dutch side are currently bottom of Group B in the Europa League on two points, and have the biggest necessity to win. On top of that, their new coach John van 't Schip - who wasn't in charge for the reverse fixture against Brighton - has won his first two games since returning.
With a slight improvement in all that surrounds the club, after their horror start to the season, we can anticipate an Ajax side feeling a little less submissive to take the pitch against Brighton this time. At the Amex Stadium, Ajax landed just one shot on target and were very much playing to avoid defeat.
In their first two games under van 't Schip, the Dutch side have racked up 44 shots and an xG of 5.95 in the Eredivisie. What's more, in their first game under the new boss against FC Volendam, Ajax recorded a season-high total for the number of possession recoveries in the final third (9). It's far from vintage Ajax, but it's better than it once was.
For Brighton, the prospect of an opponent with more ambition - not to mention, more necessity to win - won't be a huge concern. Their problems this season have tended to come against teams who are drilled in the art of defending deeper areas, so any extra space that might be an offer from the previous meeting with Ajax will be willfully received.
With Brighton still having plenty of work themselves to do to assure their qualification from the group stage, I expect to see something a little more vibrant from the Seagulls. And at the Johan Cruyff Arena, in their first ever European campaign, the scene will be set for an exhibition of football.
João Pedro has been Brighton's man in Europe
Four of Brighton's six goals in the Europa League this season have been scored by João Pedro - a player who's only started four times in the Premier League in 2023-24.
It's clear that the Brazilian is De Zerbi's choice to do the heavy lifting in European competition at the moment, with his cameo duty in league competition keeping him fresh for their tough schedule.
The 22-year-old scored the opener in the reverse fixture against Ajax this season, while he had the most shots (3) and touches (6) in the opposition box of any Brighton player on the night.
Indeed, across all competitions, he has the highest per 90 average of any player for the club this season for both xG (0.74) and touches in the opposition box (8.4).
With Danny Welbeck still out injured and Evan Ferguson leading the line at Goodison Park at the weekend, expect the Brazilian to be restored to the XI for this one and resume his importance in Europe.
"We want to win for sure, and the most important [thing] is to play with energy, with attitude, with the right spirit," De Zerbi said ahead of the Ajax trip. And with a fresher João Pedro ready to come back into the fold, we can expect him to provide all of that - along with his attacking threat - at the Johan Cruyff Arena.