WINGING IT: SOLLY MARCH REBORN IN NEW POSITION AS POTTER'S GAMBLE PAYS OFF
Last season, serious doubts were raised over whether Solly March had the quality to play in the Premier League, a year on and there are no such worries.
Solly March never amassed over 25 appearances during his four seasons in the Championship with Brighton, but ever since their promotion to the Premier League, he’s been a regular.
With 36 and 35 appearances respectively in his first two seasons in the topflight, March established himself as a favourite under former boss Chris Hughton.
Hughton’s defensive style of play, and his reliance on hard-working wingers was ideally suited to March’s qualities.
Ever since his integration into the Seagulls’ first-team squad in the 2013/14 season, March has proven himself to be a defensively capable winger, and has never dropped below 2.5 tackles and interceptions per 90 in his career at the Amex.
However, his creativity in the final third was what caused both fans and pundits alike to suggest it was an area of weakness in the Brighton squad, and one they needed to improve.
Their wish was Brighton’s command last summer with the £18m signing of Leandro Trossard from KRC Genk.
The purchase of Trossard, as well as the appointment of the more expansive Graham Potter as manager, ensured that March played just 19 Premier League games last season, contributing just one assist and zero goals all year, an extremely poor effort considering his position.
In fact, Trossard’s key pass per 90 tally of 1.9 last season was better than March has ever managed in his career, justifying why Potter decided to upgrade his left-winger.
But Potter’s move to a 3-4-3 formation this season has seen the re-emergence of March, and he’s thriving in his new role as a left wing-back.
A marauding wing-back, March has displayed a level of maturity, and discipline in his new role, something that has come as a pleasant surprise to supporters of the south-coast side.
Whilst many former wingers transition into either wing-backs, or traditional full-backs, some struggle to let their past as an attacker die, and hence neglect their defensive duties.
However, March, just like Victor Moses did under Antonio Conte, looks re-born in Potter’s new system, and his defensive actions are as regular as most full-backs in the league.
The Englishman makes 3.3 tackles and interceptions per 90, a tally that betters the likes of: Andy Robertson (1.0), Kieran Tierney (1.4), and Ben Chilwell (2.4), and although an argument could be put up that March simply has to defend more than his peers, this is mostly inaccurate.
Brighton have averaged 53.9% possession so far this season (6th in the Premier League), which is incidentally more than Arsenal (52.0%), suggesting that Tierney should be more defensively active than March, but he isn’t.
Furthermore, March’s creativity has also improved since his switch in position. His 1.6 key passes per 90 is the highest it’s ever been at the club, and his xG + xA per 90 this season of 0.28 is also the highest it’s ever been.
With a goal and an assist already this campaign, March has beaten his tally from last season in just seven games, and constantly looks like a threat down the left.
Although the hype, and attention, has been directed at Brighton’s other wing-back Tariq Lamptey, and for good reason I might add, March deserves to be praised almost as much as his compatriot.
Whilst not as elegant on the ball, or as agile, March actually completes double the amount of dribbles per 90 that Lamptey does (2.8 to 1.4), with a much better success rate.
Far more respect needs to be put on March’s name.
The 2-3 loss to Manchester United at the Amex, a game Brighton certainly deserved to win, perhaps best epitomised the rejuvenation of March as a wing-back.
He scored once, and hit the woodwork, took five shots, completed seven dribbles, and made six tackles and interceptions, all of which were match highs.
March was incredible, and United simply couldn’t stop him.
He outshone the likes of Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes, and if not for the latter’s last gasp penalty, Brighton would’ve won a point, no less than March’s performance merited.
Potter has shown his tactical nous by altering March’s role, March has displayed his versatility, and both have reaped the rewards.
The local lad from Eastbourne is certainly one to keep an eye on.