Rumours regarding the future of Liam Bridcutt and a possible return to Brighton and Hove Albion have escalated throughout the week, as the club’s former midfielder attracted praise following a man of the match performance for Leeds United against Hull City last weekend.
Albion fans are fully aware of Bridcutt’s capabilities on a football field but after leaving the club on bad terms in January 2014, his arrival could unsettle a squad that is currently flying high and create a mixed reception from the club’s loyal supporters.
A lot has changed since Bridcutt left for Sunderland midway through Oscar Garcia’s only season in charge, which ended sweet and sour following a final day play-off capture before a miserable 6-2 aggregate loss at the hands of Derby County.
The club lost balance the following season, struggling under Garcia’s successor Sami Hyypia before Chris Hughton came in to steady the ship and avoid relegation, which would have been disastrous for a club clearly making efforts to move forward off the pitch.
Bridcutt endured a similar struggle at the Stadium of Light, failing to impress managers after his biggest believer and former Albion boss Gus Poyet, lost his job at the tail end of Sunderland’s miserable campaign earlier this year.
Of course, Brighton have rebuilt and now find themselves sitting top of the SkyBet Championship and 20 games unbeaten. Bridcutt must undergo the same process but whether a return to the Amex stadium would be beneficial for both parties, that’s a question with complex answers.
Hughton has reinvented Albion’s playing style, opting for a 4-4-2 formation instead of the 4-5-1 that served the club for a number of years following the club’s promotion to England’s second tier under Poyet.
Bridcutt was a vital component within that shape and often the first name on the team sheet. His back-to-back ‘Player of the Season’ awards made him a fans favourite and following his departure, a gaping hole in Albion’s midfield was never really replaced until Hughton’s tactical reinvention over the summer.
There’s no doubt Bridcutt would be a welcome addition to the strength of Albion’s playing squad, but with Dale Stephens and Beram Kayal pulling the strings in a balanced role of attacking prowess and stern defensive commitment, Bridcutt’s inclusion in a 4-4-2 formation could be a square peg trying to fit in a round hole.
Despite two stunning strikes against Dagenham & Redbridge and Carlisle United, Bridcutt was never known for his creativity and eye for goal. Coming from Chelsea, Bridcutt learnt the ‘Makelele Role’ from the man himself and his simple approach of winning the ball and handing it off to flair players was effective throughout his time on the south coast.
Bridcutt has walked straight into the team at Elland Road but the same could not be said if he were to find his way back to the Albion. Stephens and Kayal have been phenomenal for the league leaders this season and portray the wonderful balance Hughton has introduced since Tony Bloom brought him to the club.
Other than the arguable need for another striker and left back cover, central midfield would benefit from an injection of strength in depth. Although Bridcutt’s arrival may not be a perfect fit in Hughton’s favoured midfield four, it would offer Albion’s manager tactical versatility, a player familiar with the club’s ambition and someone more than capable at Championship level.
If Bridcutt does return in January, he’ll be looking to make up for lost time and what a perfect opportunity with Albion fighting for promotion. For Bridcutt to succeed on the south coast, either Hughton’s tactics or Bridcutt’s playing style will need to adapt.
With Albion currently sitting top of the league, it’s more likely Bridcutt will have his work cut out. If a balance can be found, Bridcutt’s arrival could work wonders for both club and player, adding another leader to Albion’s promotion push and rejuvenating that career of a player who seems to have stopped in his tracks.