Roberto De Zerbi: The Brighton coach is playing beautiful and brilliant football.  Will Liverpool dare to get there?  |  football news

Roberto De Zerbi has a “unique” style, but could the Brighton manager’s strength be a weakness for football’s risk-averse superclubs? Watch Liverpool vs Brighton live on Sky Sports on Super Sunday

By Adam Bate and Lewis Jones

12:00, United Kingdom, Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The style with which Roberto De Zerbi has put Brighton in the top half of the Premier League table, this season and last, demands that the 44-year-old manager be considered for top jobs. This weekend, live on Super Sunday, he takes to the stage for what could be his audition at Anfield.

Pep Guardiola has called De Zerbi “one of the most influential coaches of the last 20 years” for his style of football. The three-time Champions League-winning coach said: “There is no team that plays the way he plays. He is unique.”

With De Zerbi, however, there is an unusual trajectory to his career. The big clubs have not knocked on his door. Still.

When Sam Allardyce and Sean Dyche took unfashionable teams to the upper reaches of the Premier League, the concern was that their approach was not ambitious enough for the best.

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Sunday, March 31, 1:00 p.m.

In the case of De Zerbi, could it be too ambitious for cautious owners?

The good news for Brighton is that those are the rumors following reports that he is being considered for the role that will soon be vacated at Liverpool when Jurgen Klopp leaves. Xabi Alonso has less experience as a coach, but it is De Zerbi whose fascinating football is considered a risk.

In full development, his teams find angles that others do not find, triangles all over the field, controlling the pace in possession and pressing man to man. At its best, watching your Brighton team can feel like watching the future of sport, evolution in action. Brighton cast aside the feather dusters used under Graham Potter and replaced them with battering rams under De Zerbi.

When Brighton is hot, it is hot.

From January 2023 to the end of last season, Brighton led the way in expected goals (51.3) in the Premier League, surpassing Manchester City’s tally of 46.18 over the same period. No team had more shots (605) or shots on goal (228) than the brilliant Seagulls. He took them to Europe for the first time.

De Zerbi’s brave and exciting attacking style lends itself to his defense being exposed, but even if you include his expected goals against record, his overall expected goals difference (expected goals – expected goals against) of 21.6 ranked them second to Pep Guardiola’s team during that period last season. Brighton’s process was terrifyingly impressive.

De Zerbi talks about his future in February…

“When I hear that the big teams are interested in me, it is an honor and makes me proud. My focus is work day by day. About the future I am going to talk to the owner and the club because I want to compete in the best way I can. I want understand their plan and so it will not be a problem to work in a big, very big team. I would like, in my career, to compete to win the Premier League, Serie A, the Bundesliga, LaLiga, Champions League.”

Perhaps there are parallels here with Marcelo Bielsa, the celebrated Argentine coach who has inspired so many but has been overlooked in Europe’s top jobs. He is also considered a maverick who changed the minds of coaches with his interpretation of the game.

De Zerbi’s own top-down approach focuses more on possession than pressing, but is equally eye-catching when it works and alarming when it doesn’t. Naturally, turning the ball over in your own defensive third of the field is more likely to result in a goal.

The dark side of De Zerbi’s football has been more present in the narrative this campaign, where Brighton have struggled with the added workload of European football. Tired minds are leading to more mistakes.

Brighton have made eight errors leading to goals this season, the most of any Premier League team along with bottom side Sheffield United. Neither team has faced more shots due to individual errors (18). That commitment to playing from behind comes at a price.

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De Zerbi’s admirers would argue, with some justification, that risky football pays off.

When Brighton play the opposition, they do so beautifully and brilliantly effective. However, the facts are these: Brighton are having a mediocre season. De Zerbi shares have fallen.

Of all the cup competitions and the work still to be done to secure a European qualification spot in the Premier League, De Zerbi’s intense style and admission that the club was not ready for European football has led to the Brighton team was decimated by injuries at various times during the season.

For example, heading into Anfield on Sunday, Brighton will be without Kaoru Mitoma, Solly March and Joao Pedro, De Zerbi’s starting three forwards. No club would be expected to prosper under such restrictions.

There will always be questions about whether a coach can adapt to the demands of a bigger job. Klopp and Xavi Hernandez will move away from Liverpool and Barcelona respectively this summer, citing their energy levels. The pressures are enormous.

However, De Zerbi has an aura that is associated with senior managers. He plays with emotions on the sideline. And he treats his players like family. When he speaks, you can see that determination. He makes you want to follow him.

As sky sports‘ Melissa Reddy writes in her in-depth column about who could replace Klopp: “De Zerbi’s ability to innovate and communicate unique concepts to his players, who absorb them so quickly and effectively, is a fundamental weapon.”

The attention in Liverpool tests character, the player’s profile challenges human management. These are factors worth considering. The strange thing about De Zerbi’s enigma to risk-averse football superclubs is that they know the football he plays is beautiful.

They just haven’t seen anyone try and win yet.

De Zerbi has a chance to impress the decision makers on Sunday.

Your audition at Anfield awaits you.

Liverpool’s next six games

March 31st: Brighton (H), Premier League, live sky sportsstart at 2 pm

April 4: Sheffield United (H), Premier League, kick-off at 7:30 p.m.

April 7: Manchester United (A), Premier League, live sky sportsstart at 3:30 p.m.

April 11: Atalanta (H), Europa League, start at 8:00 p.m.

April 14th: Crystal Palace (H), Premier League, live sky sportsstart at 2 pm

April 18th: Atalanta (A), Europa League, start at 8:00 p.m.

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