When Graham Potter ended his three-year spell at Brighton Hove & Albion and joined Chelsea in September 2022, it seemed that Brighton’s gradual rise was set to come to an end. After Sporting Director Dan Ashworth’s move to Newcastle and the sales of key players like Marc Cucurella and Yves Bissouma, it seemed that Brighton were headed for a rebuilding year. Nevertheless, the Brighton hierarchy didn’t panic and hired Roberto De Zerbi on a four-year contract.
After bouncing around various different coaching jobs in Italy, De Zerbi made a name for himself during his three-year spell at Sassuolo, later taking the job at Shakhtar Donetsk before departing in July 2022 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Two months later, De Zerbi took charge of Brighton, with his first game in charge seeing the Seagulls draw 3-3 at Liverpool. Four weeks later, his Brighton side picked up their first win, thrashing Potter’s Chelsea 4-1 at the Amex.
De Zerbi comes across as a confident man in his press conferences and this is clearly illustrated in Brighton’s play. De Zerbi talks about giving his players freedom + the ability to be creative in order to figure out in-game situations and this is highlighted in the clip below.
In this clip, we can clearly see the pillars of De Zerbi ball which include baiting the opponents into an intense press whilst also showing the freedom that he gives to his players. For example, the pivot for Brighton detaches from their shape in order to stop Arsenal from pinning them in, which represents exactly what De Zerbi repeats in his press conferences in giving his team more freedom and creative control in order to decipher different in-game scenarios.
Another key principle of De Zerbi’s tactics is the attempt to minimize duels. De Zerbi states that “kicking the ball long and trying to win the second ball is a bet”. The need for utmost control is represented in this statement and is further exemplified by the next clip.
In this clip, the Brighton CB could have easily cleared the ball as it was coming to him at speed whilst having two Manchester United shirts close to him to pounce on a loose touch. However, this is not the De Zerbi way and instead, the CB calmly controlled the ball and set the ball off to a teammate and started a new phase of possession.
This type of mentality on the pitch is unheard of for most top teams, let alone a previous mid-table team in Brighton and the continuous want for control is a major reason why Brighton have qualified for Europe for the first time in their history with pundits and fans across England lauding their style of play.
De Zerbi has built a strong spine across Brighton with highly-touted players all over the team in midfielders Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister, forwards Kaoru Mitoma, Julio Enciso, and Evan Ferguson, with Brighton desperate to keep as many as possible in order to head their European charge next season. His influence has stretched further than the south coast and has even extended to argubably the best manager in the world, Pep Guardiola.
Pep has spoken highly of De Zerbi and has even gone as far as saying that “Roberto De Zerbi is one of the most influential managers in the last 20 years” and on Brighton, said that “the way they play, I’ve never seen in 20 years”. This shows just how much Pep holds the Italian in high regard and his influence on him is clear to see this season.
As shown in this clip, the press baiting by Ederson alongside the drop-in play by Riyad Mahrez and Erling Haaland to create 2v1s is very De Zerbi-like. As well as this, the freedom given to the players to make continuing vertical passes was something that De Zerbi has previously emphasized which Guardiola has taken on, especially in the Arsenal game and the second leg of the Champions League semifinals against Real Madrid.
The hiring of Roberto De Zerbi by Tony Bloom, who has had a fantastic couple of years in regard to Brighton’s recruitment, has been a masterstroke with De Zerbi strong becoming one of the most highly-rated managers in world football as highlighted by his influence on Pep Guardiola and Brighton will face a big fight on their hands once the giants of European football inevitably come knocking for the 43-year-old Italian. Before that, though, he’ll be looking to lead Brighton in their first-ever European adventure as they get set to play in next season’s UEFA Europa League.
By: @DahaJama12 / [TikTok: Starz01 / Email: Dahajama1@outlook.com]
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Mike Hewitt / Getty Images