Premier League 2023-24 preview No 5: Brighton

Guardian writers’ predicted position: 9th (NB: this is not necessarily Ed Aarons’s prediction but the average of our writers’ tips)

Last season’s position: 6th

Prospects

After their record-breaking exploits last season, the first day of September has been underlined on Brighton’s calendar for some time. Roberto De Zerbi’s side will not only learn the identity of their opponents in the group stage of the Europa League but the manager should also be able to breathe a huge sigh of relief when the transfer window shuts that evening.

Having already lost Alexis Mac Allister to Liverpool, uncertainty over the future of midfield general Moisés Caicedo has been the only distraction for Brighton fans still basking in their unprecedented success. The question now is whether a squad that has so far been augmented with the purchases of Brazilian forward João Pedro from Watford for a club record £30m and £17m goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen from Anderlecht can withstand the rigours of a European campaign alongside the intense Premier League schedule.

Related: Premier League 2023-24 preview No 4: Brentford

Veteran James Milner, signed on a free transfer from Liverpool, and Germany midfielder Mo Dahoud, who arrived from Borussia Dortmund at the end of his contract, will add some much-needed experience alongside captain Lewis Dunk, who signed a contract extension in the summer. Brighton have so far been frustrated in their attempts to persuade Chelsea to allow England Under-21 defender Levi Colwill to join them on a permanent basis, although that could depend on reaching a deal for Caicedo.

Whatever happens, it will be intriguing to see how exciting talents like Kaoru Mitoma, Facundo Buonanotte, Evan Ferguson and Julio Enciso continue to develop under the charismatic De Zerbi as he leads them into unknown territory.

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The manager

Brighton supporters have every right to feel very smug when they look back on losing Graham Potter to Chelsea only a few weeks into last season and replacing him with the former Sassuolo and Shakhtar Donetsk manager Roberto De Zerbi. The Italian wasted no time making a big impression as his side ended the campaign as the Premier League’s fourth-highest scorers and also reached the FA Cup semi-finals. The 44-year-old has made it clear that he is in no rush to leave the south coast despite being coveted by many of Europe’s biggest clubs and Brighton will be desperate to hang on to him for as long as they possibly can.

Leading the shirt sales

Kaoru Mitoma was typically modest when asked about the proliferation of Japanese fans wearing his No 22 shirt at Brighton games last season. “There aren’t many in the Premier League, so I think it means a lot just to be here,” he said. But it’s not just back home that the winger’s performances have caught the eye – Mitoma has been in talks over a new contract following his breakthrough season under De Zerbi as Brighton attempt to dissuade a host of interested clubs from pursuing him. Expect plenty of speculation about Mitoma’s future should the 26-year-old show more of the form that saw him score seven Premier League goals.

Folk hero

“From Withdean to Wembley,” as the chant goes. “Blocking shots, scoring goals, Dunk is one of our own.” It’s hard to overestimate how deep the defender’s bond with supporters goes since he made his debut back in 2010 while Brighton were still in League One and hosting games at an athletics stadium. More than 400 appearances later Lewis Dunk remains the heartbeat of the club, having finally convinced Gareth Southgate he was worthy of an England recall at the end of last season after winning a solitary cap in 2018. He was forced to withdraw with an injury and admitted he had been “playing on adrenaline” but could be back in contention for the Euros with a strong start to the new campaign.

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One to watch

There are so many to choose from among Brighton’s array of rising stars: Enciso picked up the Premier League’s goal of the season award for his incredible long-range strike against Manchester City, while Buonanotte, the Swedish midfielder Yasin Ayari and Odel Offiah – nephew of the rugby league legend Martin – are all tipped for the top. But it is the Republic of Ireland striker Evan Ferguson that stands out after his impressive return of six goals in only 10 Premier League starts last season, including two against Southampton that sealed European qualification. Ferguson, who signed a five-year contract extension in April, doesn’t turn 19 until October and could emerge as one of the world’s best young players if he can steer clear of injuries.

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