Knockaert Arrives to Restore Midfield Balance
Anthony Knockaert may be remembered for his penalty heartbreak at Vicarage Road, rather than his hand in Leicester City’s Championship success the following season, but the Frenchman’s return to England opens a blank page in the 24-year-old’s career, as he looks to repair Brighton & Hove Albion’s promotion charge, which seems to have broken down in recent weeks.
His arrival on the south coast is a welcome boost for Albion’s depleted squad, ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Hull City. Manager Chris Hughton has reiterated his plans to field a second string team, with a league fixture at Rotherham United, which is likely to be Knockaert’s debut, just three days later.
Saturday’s cup tie will not only give Albion’s first choice performers a rest, but the reliability of Hughton’s second hand replacements will be tested going into the back end of an important season for the club. An indication of where else needs strengthening will be given Saturday afternoon, with a negative outcome likely to trigger more additions alongside Knockaert in the following weeks.
Having scored seven goals in all competitions for Standard Liege this season, Tony Bloom’s latest purchase arrives at the Amex Stadium one goal ahead of Albion’s top goal scorer Tomer Hemed. The attacking playmaker is predominantly a right midfielder, which makes his goal scoring exploits all the more impressive as he arrives to solve Albion’s problems out wide.
With Solly March sidelined for the season and Kazenga Lua Lua short of match fitness after a lengthy lay-off, Knockaert’s arrival comes at a perfect time for Hughton, as Albion’s midfield looks to rediscover the balance that led to a 22-game unbeaten run.
Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee Rajiv van La Parra performed well in his short spell with the club, however when his parent club visited the south coast on New Year’s Day, the need for a permanent winger was clearer than ever. With three central midfielders, Dale Stephens, Andrew Crofts and Berm Kayal juggling roles across the midfield four, it was obvious Albion needed to find a quality replacement as soon as the January Transfer window opened.
The performance level of Albion’s midfield partnership dropped considerably, with Stephens and Kayal picking the ball up in unknown territory compared to the strict perimeter they worked within when Albion’s wingmen were flying.
With Knockaert likely to walk straight into right midfield, opposite Jamie Murphy on the other flank, Stephens and Kayal can revert back to what they do best and with defensive solidarity rediscovered at the back, balance can be restored within Albion’s team as the panic button is confidently switched off ahead of Tuesday night’s league encounter at the New York Stadium.