- New Brighton manager Roberto De Zerbi drew his first match in charge 3-3 away at Liverpool
- De Zerbi took over from Graham Potter in September after he left to join Chelsea
- His last managerial role was at Shakhtar Donetsk, which followed three seasons at Serie A side Sassuolo
- Brighton currently sit fourth in the Premier League table after a good start to the season
For both Brighton & Hove Albion and their former manager Graham Potter, it was a good weekend. Potter won 2-1 at Crystal Palace in his first Premier League game as head coach of Chelsea thanks to a late Conor Gallagher goal, while Brighton drew 3-3 away at Liverpool with a Leandro Trossard hat-trick.
In Potter’s three seasons in charge at Brighton, the Seagulls garnered a reputation as a well-managed and stable, if slightly low-scoring club. A top-half finish last season only added to that. At the same time, Potter’s reputation continued to grow, and it was last month that the 47-year-old got his chance at one of the ‘big six’, taking over at Chelsea following Thomas Tuchel’s sacking.
Following on from last season’s ninth-place finish, Brighton currently sit in fourth place, three points behind third-placed Tottenham with a game in hand. They’ve drawn away at Liverpool, put five past Leicester, and beaten Manchester United at Old Trafford. They've done all that whilst only losing once so far.
After Potter left the club, they wasted little time in finding a replacement. Roberto De Zerbi is at the helm, and while he’s got a decade or so of managerial experience, he’s fairly young at 43 and is something of an unknown quantity in the UK. He’s perhaps best known for his three years at Serie A side Sassuolo from 2018 to 2021 and the following year at Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine, but what can we expect from him in the Premier League? And what can we expect from Brighton now Potter has left?
Keeping things similar
Saturday’s match against Liverpool was Brighton’s first Premier League game in almost a month. It came after the death of the Queen and then industrial action which caused fixtures against Bournemouth and Crystal Palace to be postponed. The international break extended the time off.
Against Liverpool, De Zerbi went with a similar lineup to Potter in his final game, that 5-2 victory against Leicester. The only change was that left-back Pervis Estupiñán came in for injured midfielder Enock Mwepu. Adam Webster, Lewis Dunk and Joël Veltman all kept their places in a back three, while the likes of Trossard, Moisés Caicedo and Danny Welbeck all remained in the lineup too.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admitted that his side were surprised by De Zerbi’s tactics, while Brighton fans will be encouraged by the determination and fight their team showed to claw it back to 3-3 when their heads could have dropped after throwing away a 2-0 lead. It was an exciting, attacking performance away at a team who, while not having the easiest of times this season, remain one of the division’s strongest sides and put nine past Bournemouth only a month ago.
Shakhtar and Sassuolo
De Zerbi is influenced by Pep Guardiola, whom he visited during his time at Bayern Munich and has a clear idea of how he wants his teams to play. Going back to his time at Serie C outfit Foggia, he’d watch matches back and make detailed notes. His team played football that set them apart from the other teams in the division.
He’s a manager who likes to build from the back and control games, not a fan of the more ‘route one’ style of football that some Premier League underdogs might plump for. Graham Potter earned plenty of plaudits for his own possession-based style of football, and is also influenced by Guardiola, as well as the likes of Roberto Martinez and Raymond Verheijen.
During his time at Sassuolo, the team ranked among the top in Serie A for possession, passes completed, pass accuracy and touches, and while playing slightly deeper than a lot of their rivals also ranked near the top for many advanced metrics.
To that end, it looks as if De Zerbi won’t be reinventing the wheel at Brighton. He’s said that Potter deserves credit and left him a great team, but also wants to add his own ideas. While De Zerbi often went for a 4-2-3-1 formation at Sassuolo and Shakhtar, he’s opted to continue with three defenders at Brighton, to begin with at least.
His overachievement with Sassuolo mirrors Potter’s with Brighton too. In his final season in charge, and with a lack of big names, they finished eighth in Serie A. It followed another eighth-place finish the season before and an eleventh-place finish in his first campaign.
After leaving Shakhtar following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, De Zerbi could have gone back to Italy. Instead, he’s opted to test himself in a new league with a team that fans and pundits alike will be keeping an eye on following Potter’s departure. While it’s very early days, there’s nothing to suggest that Brighton won’t keep continuing to progress. As historically ‘bigger’ clubs like Aston Villa and West Ham are faltering this term, Brighton are continuing to improve.
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