This week Solly March hit 100 appearances for Brighton in the Premier League. March has impressed this season, scoring two goals in ten appearances, as many as he managed in the past three seasons in the league.
His impressive performances have even caught the attention of England manager Gareth Southgate, with rumours of an England call up now starting to circulate. He has every chance of getting into the England set up given the current options at left back. Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell is the obvious first-choice left back, but the position of first reserve is up for grabs – Arsenal’s Saka is more of a winger and Man United’s Luke Shaw is out of form.
March has had a compete turn around this campaign and has clearly earned the trust of Seagulls manager Graham Potter. Last season, March made 11 Premier League starts. This campaign, he has already made 10.
So what has changed to warrant more playing time? Firstly, March has gone from playing as a winger to a wing-back. The positions may sound similar but they are in fact very different roles. A wing-back has equally important roles in both defence and attack.
This move has undoubtedly benefited March. Even though his role has become more defensive, he is producing a better attacking return. He has already registered two goals and one assist, taking his total stats to 4 goals and 8 assists in 100 Premier League appearances. Potter’s new system seems to better suit March’s style of play.
Potter identified March as a potential left wing-back before the first lockdown, and has been working hard in training with March to make him comfortable with the position. March spoke to The Athletic about his transition to a more defensive role:
“We had a conversation in the first lockdown,” March reveals. “I trained a few times at left-back. That helped me learn a bit more about the defensive role and it just evolved from there. I trained at left-back, then in the left wing-back position and then playing in games. I’ve started enjoying it more, that’s the main thing, the defensive and attacking parts. That helps a lot.
“I think it suits me a lot. I can defend well now. People will go past you at times, but not diving in or letting crosses come in, make tackles and get forward as well, which I like doing. I’ve showed that more this year.
“My attributes suit it well. I can still play other positions. I’m versatile, which is handy for the team and the manager as well.”
His defensive awareness stems from playing under Chris Hughton, Potter’s more cautious predecessor, as a tracking-back winger in Brighton’s first two seasons in the Premier League, when they had less possession and were often on the back foot.
“That helped me massively,” March said. “In a way, it prepared me for the role I’m in now. I was defending a lot more than attacking. Now it’s evened out a bit, but I learnt a lot from that. I probably didn’t enjoy it as much back then, because it was defending in most of the games.”
Now 26, March is coming into the prime of his career. He is thriving within his new role and most importantly seems very happy playing in this Potter side.
He is starting to become influential in attack and more disciplined in defence. March is not there to win big physical duels or make goal saving tackles. His job is simple, do not dive into tackles and stop any potential crosses. There are 3 centre half’s behind him who are there to cover any defensive frailties he may have.
March’s performance against Villa was a perfect example of what Potter is trying to do with the left wing-back. The Albion manager wants him attacking space, like he exploited against Villa, where he capitalised on Pascal Gross’s cross which switched the play from right to left.
March also demonstrated his defensive attributes against Villa in the final stages of the game. He tackled Trezeguet inside his own penalty area, shortly after Brighton had been reduced to 10 men by a red card for Lamptey for a second bookable offence. Although at first it was awarded as a penalty, after consulting VAR the decision was overturned by the referee as it was deemed a good challenge.
Against Manchester United, he levelled the score to 2-2, before the visitors snatched victory with a penalty in the 100th minute. Once again, it was a good run towards the far post that resulted in a goal for March.
Lamptey has grabbed the headlines this season but March has cemented his place in the side and his consistent performances are worth taking note of. With the Euros approaching, March should have the all the motivation he needs to continue working towards the goal of making Southgate’s 23-man squad for June.
You can see Solly March in action on Sunday against Leicester on Prime video, 19:15 kick-off.