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Brighton & Hove Albion-Watford Preview
Following a solid debut in the Premier League last season, Brighton & Hove Albion look to step up their play this time around.
That second term begins Saturday at Watford, who hope to better their bottom-half-of-the-table finish from last season.
There is reason for Brighton and their faithful to feel good about things after avoiding relegation in their first-ever Premier League campaign. The Seagulls finished 15th at 9-13-16, but simply remaining in the top-flight for another season is success in itself.
"We were a bit naive at points, but we got better at that as the season went on" forward Glenn Murray told the club's official website. "We learnt the tricks of the trade and what Premier League clubs do to slow down if they're winning. It was a huge learning curve and we're going in with our eyes open."
However, only three teams scored fewer goals than Brighton's 34 last season, and they were blanked on 17 occasions. The Seagulls kept themselves above water by conceding 54 - fewer than any side in the bottom half of the table.
"We have to improve in every department to get better," midfielder Dale Stephens told the club's official website.
Murray scored 14 goals over all competitions in 2017-18 and Pascal Gross showed signs of potential with seven. Brighton could use more production than it got from Dutch forward Jurgen Locadia. New signee Florin Andone, meanwhile, is a doubt for this contest due to a groin injury.
Brighton played Watford to a scoreless draw at Vicarage Road last season, then won the reverse fixture 1-0 on a Gross goal in the 64th minute.
The Hornets finished one point and one spot above the Seagulls in last season's table with an 11-8-19 mark. But they lost six of their last nine league contests, so the eagerness to begin this season is high at Vicarage Road.
"We want to achieve something special, and of course, we can do that," forward Abdoulaye Doucoure told Watford's official website.
Doucoure, who was awarded with a five-year deal after scoring a team-high seven goals over all competitions in 2017-18, should be the club's primary offensive focus this season. He's also excited about what he believes is ahead for the side.
"The club has the same ambition as me, so that's why I chose to stay here," the French midfielder added. "I think we can reach another level."
The reality for Watford is a possible top-10 finish, but even that could be a stretch without talented forward Richarlison, who had five goals over all competitions but is now wearing an Everton kit following a £50 move.
Watford also brought in former West Bromwich Albion keeper Ben Foster, who began his Premier League career with the Hornets, to man the net.
Despite Watford's overall struggles during the final stretch of the last Premier League season, they went 4-2-1 at home to close out the campaign.
"We are looking forward to the game against Brighton," Watford manager Javi Gracia said. "With the players we have we are ready to play and to try and improve."
Updated August 9, 2018