Leon Balogun: The Seagull with a point to prove in the Premier League

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The central defender soared on his home debut against the Red Devils and will seek an even better performance in a daunting Anfield trip this weekend


COMMENT    By Seye Omidiora     Follow on Twitter
 

As far as debuts go, Leon Balogun’s appearance in Brighton & Hove Albion’s 3-2 victory over Manchester United was as eventful as they come.

Having been asked to reprise his gameweek one substitute role for the visit of the Manchester giants, he’d probably have taken it on the chin.

After all, Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy are the club’s primary central defenders, and it’d have been strange to make a tweak at the heart of the defence against such strong opposition. 

Leon Balogun

However, when Dunk suffered an ankle injury right before the halfway point of the opening half, the Nigeria international was thrown into the deep end for his first appearance.

The withdrawn Englishman had played all of Brighton’s top-flight games since the start of last season, so Balogun had somewhat big shoes to fill... and he didn’t disappoint. 

Leon Balogun stats vs. Manchester United

To put his performance into perspective, the former Mainz defender ranked highly in tackles won, interceptions and clearances as the Albion sought to protect their 3-1 halftime lead.

The new signing made more interceptions and clearances than any of his teammates, with only midfield man, David Propper, trumping him in successful tackles on the day.

Leon Balogun - Brighton

Balogun’s influence in the defensive phase on his debut is even more apparent when you take into account he didn’t play the full duration of the game, but bettered the majority of his co-players’ numbers regardless.

Given Chris Hughton’s side had won the corresponding fixture 1-0 in May; they’d possibly have fancied themselves against the gloomy visitors.

In all fairness, five goals may have been scored at the Amex on Sunday, but it flattered United and, to a lesser extent, Brighton. Mourinho’s side had nine shots to the home side’s six, but struggled to create anything meaningful, especially after halftime. 

With expected goals of 1.66 and 1.39 to the home and away side respectively, the scoreline may have been a misrepresentation of events in East Sussex. 

Nonetheless, it’d be unfair not to give the victors any credit as they were the first side to hit the back of United’s net three or more times since Chelsea’s 4-0 drubbing of Mourinho’s side in October 2016. 

Leon Balogun

It still remains somewhat difficult, though, to properly appraise Balogun’s performance.

Granted, the aforementioned review speaks glowingly about the towering defender, yet you wonder if people are getting ahead of themselves. 

On the one hand, you have to praise his adaptability following his introduction against a top side, while it also has to be said that the extraordinarily poor display of the Red Devils - who have since had their attitude and application questioned - helped the Nigerian.

This weekend’s trip to play Liverpool at Anfield represents a whole new challenge for player and club.

Roberto Firmino Sadio Mane Mohamed Salah Liverpool West Ham Premier League 120818

Jurgen Klopp’s side don't give too much away at Anfield and the Reds supposed superiority to United with respect to styles of play won’t play into the hands of the Albion. 

United were poor and dreary at the Amex and often resorted to long balls and crosses in an attempt to break Hughton’s side down. That gave an advantage to Duffy and Balogun, as the pair dealt reasonably well with United’s weak response.

Liverpool, by contrast, offer more in an attacking sense with their frantic tempo which could easily disrupt the visitors’ predicted defensive shape in Saturday’s tea-time kickoff. 

Balogun isn’t the most agile of center-backs, nor is he the quickest, so the superior mobility of the Liverpool forwards could make it an uncomfortable evening for the summer signing. 

Mo Salah helped Liverpool see off Brighton

Hughton's side’s atrocious away record doesn’t inspire confidence either. The Seagulls have failed to win on the road in almost a year since a 1-0 victory over Swansea City in November 2017.

Those opponents aren’t in the division any longer, so you’d have to go way back to October – a 3-0 victory over unpredictable West Ham United – to find the Seagulls’ last victory away from the Amex against a side currently in the top flight.

The Albion accrued 29 of their 40 points last year at their stomping ground, and you sense they’d need to improve their away record to better their chance of staying in the division, as being over reliant on home form may be a risk.

Chris Hughton spoke in the aftermath of the huge win over United about his side’s burning desire to secure a result in the encounter having had yet another appalling away performance in a 2-0 loss at Watford on opening day, and they’ll need that determination to secure a huge scalp against Klopp’s side that haven’t lost at Anfield since a 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace in April 2017.

Leon Balogun

And Balogun still has a huge point to prove following his Mainz departure in the summer.

He’s been beset by constant niggling injuries which have tended to limit his game time in club football, and given he was demoted to Mainz II at some point, he has to demonstrate he can hold his own in the widely dubbed 'toughest league in the world'. 

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The towering defender may have been signed primarily as backup, but the centre-back may well be a beneficiary of Dunk’s unfortunate injury and subsequently keep the Englishman out of the side on his return.

Don’t rule that out either... as Balogun is definitely that good to make an impression, provided he stays healthy in the long term. 

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