This is the big one, folks. The battle of the birds. The Eagles vs Seagulls. The M23 derby. Or the A23 derby. Whatever you want to call it. Crystal Palace and Brighton face off for the first time this season in arguably their biggest game of the season for the fans, yet it is a 3pm kick-off on a Saturday. Sad!
Here is my combined XI of the two sides, who are having polarising campaigns after both being tipped to exceed expectations before 2022-23 got underway.
Goalkeeper: Robert Sanchez (Brighton)
Both of these sides have a Spaniard as their No. 1 goalkeeper, with one currently a mainstay in the international squad and two caps to his name, while the other has never played for their country. This hasn’t influenced my decision, I am just letting you know. In fact, the decision to choose Robert Sanchez over Vicente Guaita was a pretty easy one.
It would not surprise me if Sanchez becomes one of the next Brighton players to get a big move elsewhere, although it seems a really good time to be at the Amex Stadium.
Right-wing-back: Pascal Gross (Brighton)
This position – whether it is in a back four or a back five – is one in which Crystal Palace need to recruit, with no disrespect to Joel Ward, who has been a brilliant servant for the club. Brighton have Tariq Lamptey and Joel Veltman, yet Pascal Gross has proven himself to be a brilliant player in this position in recent weeks.
Gross has played here, there and everywhere for Brighton and may well have found his best position at the ripe age of 31.
Centre-back: Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace)
Marc Guehi has been a brilliant signing for Crystal Palace and the £20million they spent is looking like more of a bargain every game. Buying him was maybe a risk at the time due to his lack of top-flight experience, but the 22-year-old’s value has tripled since then and he is now a full England international with three caps to his name.
Centre-back: Lewis Dunk (Brighton)
A Brighton legend already, club captain Lewis Dunk has been ridiculously consistent for the Seagulls and is probably unfortunate to only have one England cap, especially as he has only gone from strength to strength since making his Three Lions debut in 2018.
Centre-back: Joachim Andersen (Crystal Palace)
Probably better on the ball than he is defensively, Joachim Andersen has a sexy diagonal in his locker which was put on full display against Arsenal on the first night of the season.
Brighton often play with a back five, meaning there are quite a few options for this team. However, Andersen and Guehi get the nod ahead of Adam Webster and Veltman.
Left-wing-back: Pervis Estupinan (Brighton)
One of the tougher choices here, Pervis Estupinan beats Palace’s Tyrick Mitchell to a spot in my team. The Ecuadorian has been excellent in his first season in England and given the fact Marc Cucurella cost £60m after one year, Albion probably value their new left-wing-back at the same amount – not that they want to sell!
Mitchell impressed when he first broke into the Palace side, but he did not improve as much as expected in 2022.
Centre-midfield: Moises Caicedo (Brighton)
Moises Caicedo is already one of the best defensive midfielders in the Premier League and was valued at around £100m when Arsenal and Chelsea both tried to sign him last month. Estupinan’s international teammate will probably move on in the summer, but who knows if the Gunners will go back in for him with Declan Rice believed to be their top priority.
Centre-midfield: Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton)
What a player Alexis Mac Allister has become. The 24-year-old was bought for peanuts and is probably worth around £70m now after winning the World Cup with Argentina last year. How the f**k do Brighton do it?
The inclusions of these two were not up for debate but it is worth mentioning that Cheick Doucoure, Will Hughes, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Jeffrey Schlupp, Billy Gilmour and Adam Lallana have all missed out.
READ MORE: Man Utd and Liverpool know all too well the brilliance of teams like Brighton and Brentford
Right-wing: Solly March (Brighton)
Roberto De Zerbi has made Solly March a better player than Mohamed Salah, and you have to salute him for that.
Choosing March over the likes of Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze was quite difficult and not something I ever expected to do, but he has been absolutely brilliant under Graham Potter’s successor, thriving a bit further up the pitch than usual. Get him in the England squad, Gareth!
Striker: Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
Wilfried Zaha is obviously not a striker, he is a winger, but I believe he has what it takes to play through the middle. Plus the actual striker options are pretty rubbish, besides the young Evan Ferguson, who has shown some brilliant potential and could be in a combined XI for next season’s fixture between Palace and Brighton.
Left-wing: Kaoru Mitoma (Brighton)
Signed for £2.6m in 2021, Kaoru Mitoma spent last season on loan with Belgian side Union SG before returning to Brighton for the 2022-23 campaign. Game time was hard to come by at the start of the season before De Zerbi came in and handed the Japanese winger his first start against Graham Potter’s Chelsea. Mitoma notched an assist and has started every Premier League since – except the 2-1 home loss to Aston Villa.
In 11 starts across all competitions, Mitoma has seven goals and two assists. Place your bets on how much Chelsea bid for him in the summer…
Manager: Roberto De Zerbi (Brighton)
Anyone remember when Graeme Souness had a meltdown saying De Zerbi didn’t know Our League? Great times.
I think De Zerbi has done more in the game as a manager than Patrick Vieira, but the Frenchman is doing a stellar job with the Eagles.