Anthony Knockaert: Why the Frenchman is the real star at Brighton

On Friday night, the Premiership opened with a 4-3 thriller involving Arsenal and Leicester with Arsenal eventually coming out as winners and all weekend the goals and shocks have continued to flow.

One team who had hoped to cause an upset was Brighton & Hove Albion, who proved unable to overcome a strong Manchester City side. The match did still give them the opportunity to blood lots of new players in the Premier League though against one of the toughest opponents they will face all season.

To play at the highest-level Brighton will require further strong additions to their squad like new signing Pascal Gross who was the top chance creator in the Bundesliga last season.

Equally important to Brighton’s season will be the continued top-quality performances of those who helped them gain promotion from the Championship such as top goal scorer Glenn Murray and dynamic centre back Lewis Dunk who unfortunately scored an own goal in Brighton’s season opener.


The real star

These two and other players all had fantastic seasons last year but undoubtedly the real star of last season was the vibrant French winger Anthony Knockaert who picked up the Championship Player of the Season award.

He only made the bench for the game against Manchester City having picked up an injury during pre-season and his absence certainly showed. Last season, he scored 15 league goals in 45 games finishing joint 8th top scorer which is a phenomenal return considering he was deployed as a right winger throughout.

He averaged a goal every 254 minutes which is very impressive when you consider that he plays as a winger.  He also provided 9 assists on top of this.

25-year-old Knockaert clearly has substantial talent then but as an established Brighton favourite he could be given a platform to set himself up as a Premier League regular over the next few seasons. Knockaert has played at this level before although all too fleetingly.

He made his first of 9 Premier League appearances at the beginning of the 2014/15 season for Leicester City under boss Nigel Pearson but never regained the regular first team slot he had earned in his preceding two seasons at Leicester in the Championship.


Leaving his mark at Leicester

During his first two seasons at Leicester, Knockaert certainly showed great promise winning Championship Young Player of the Year as well as Goal of the Season in his first year.

He also helped guide the club to a play-off semi-final in that year culminating in the infamous ‘DEENEY’ moment after Knockaert won and missed a penalty which would have sent his side through to the final.

This success continued into his second season at the club as they won promotion with Knockaert making 50 appearances in all competitions and scoring 7 goals.

Perhaps it is surprising then that Pearson overlooked him when it came to the Premier League but unfortunately for Knockaert he was clearly not in Pearson’s plans and he eventually left the club for Standard Liege in Belgium for free at the start of the 2015/16 season having been offered a new contract that he turned down.

For 6 months, it appeared that English football had lost a serious talent.

That was until Brighton snapped him up for an undisclosed fee in January 2015 and since then Knockaert has been in scintillating form for Brighton and promotion to the Premier League for the first time would not have been possible without him.


Best qualities

Knockaert’s ability has been clear for a number of years now and last season was his best to date but what attributes does he bring to the Premier League? Well, first of all he is a winger and he has the pace to match it although this isn’t his strongest trait.

His best qualities are his agility and dribbling allowing him to take on and beat his man using all sorts of trickery and deception. This will be vital to him if he is to get past his opposing fullback now that he is likely to be playing regularly at the highest level of English football.

Knockaert’s creativity and finishing will also be put to an even harder test now that he is in the top flight. He is also a real danger from set pieces whether he is shooting at goal or whipping in a dangerous cross.


The main man

If Brighton are to have a chance of staying up this year Knockaert will have to maintain his contributions from last year but if any player in the Brighton squad is capable of it, it is Anthony Knockaert.

He will certainly be a force to be reckoned with this season and is going to be vital if Brighton are to remain in the Premier League.


Written by James Bairstow

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