Buidling Dreams Together


Liverpool, Barcelona, or bust – Roberto De Zerbi

An insight into De Zerbi ball and whether he has what it takes to put pen to paper at one of the big clubs as speculation rises about him leaving his managerial post at Brighton this season.

Roberto De Zerbi has truly been a revelation as Brighton & Hove Albion boss since taking the hot seat on September 18th 2022 when replacing Graham Potter, who went onto ‘better things’ at Chelsea. The less said about those six months in charge for the Solihull-born man, the better. Brighton fans weren’t too sure what to expect from Roberto until 4 minutes into his first game in charge away at Liverpool, where Trossard put the Seagulls in front, but the rest of the game gave the fans plenty to be excited about, as they managed 46% possession and managed to score 3 away goals in a 3-3 draw. That provided just a marginal insight into the type of football the Italian would like them to play, which is an attacking brand of football where he has marvellous ways of controlling the game. 

The 44-year-old lost three of his next four games in the dugout, but he quickly adapted and found his feet. Ironically, it was when Potter returned to Falmer Stadium with a Chelsea badge on and Roberto set his side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation rather than his previous tries at a 3-5-2 and 4-4-2. Alexis Mac Allister stole the show with the way he controlled the game from all over the pitch, which was something he went on to do plenty of times for the rest of last season before the Argentine’s £35m move to Liverpool, as one of the keys to Roberto’s success is how he smartly uses his deep-lying midfielders to brake the press. Astonishingly, Albion went on to achieve big wins over Liverpool (3-0), Chelsea (1-2), Manchester United (1-0) and putting a devastating blow at a crucial stage in Arsenal’s (0-3) title bid last year. The result was one thing, but the most eye-catching stat was how they dominated possession in each of those games, which has to rely more upon Roberto’s genius style of play rather than the players at his disposal. The ex-Shaktar Donetsk boss ended the season with very healthy stats (32 games – 14 wins – 7 draws – 11 losses) for his first season in charge, especially taking over from Potter, who wasn’t an easy act to follow after the job he did at the club. What’s breathtaking is the fact that of those 32 games, the Seagulles only had less possession in three of them; they even managed to edge possession against Pep’s City at the Etihad, albeit in a 3-1 loss. Brighton ultimately finished sixth in the table at the end of the season, which was an over-achievement, with the club’s aim being a top-10 finish. 

At the end of last year’s campaign, the big question loomed for Roberto, which was, could he replicate those performances now that the managers in the league were able to properly analyse his style of play and have a lot more information to go off to defeat him. Moreover, he had other big questions posed to him, one of which was whether his top players of the season would be leaving in the summer transfer window. This proved to be true, as previously stated Alexis Mac Allister moved to Liverpool for £35m and Moises Caicedo joined Chelsea for £100m, also not forgetting Leandro Trossard’s January move to Arsenal for £21m. The emphasis on his deep lying midfielders dictating the game meant it was possible this would put a real dent in his plans, as his whole midfield was ripped away from him.

Fast forward to the start of this season, where his name was starting to get side-eyes from those around him when the Seagulls won four of their first five Premier League games. Brighton played with such ease and were very classy to watch, so that rightly attracted the attention it deserved, especially when they managed 58% possession at Old Trafford in a 1-3 victory. In those five games they scored 15 goals and conceded five, which gives an understanding of why so many clubs may be interested in the Italian’s services. The worry around his sublime football, however, is how open he can leave his side defensively, as they failed to keep one clean sheet in each of those games. In fact, Albion have only managed two clean sheets all season, both of which came in 0-0 draws and it shows that the Italians’ side are easy to get at. However, his side continues to play scintillating football that will only attract interest from the big clubs, considering the players he has at his mercy and the way in which he can set his side up to dominant proceedings. Evidently, this is a clear indication that big clubs may feel that if you add the star quality and world-class talent that come with big clubs, Roberto could really be a force to be reckoned with for the coming years. At present, there are two big European clubs, Liverpool and Barcelona on the lookout, and now there is much speculation that he will be leaving the club at the end of the season. Xabi Alonso is in the firing line for the Liverpool job, as his side Bayer Leverkusen continue to lead the way in the Bundesliga after a recent 3-0 romp of Harry Kane’s Bayern Munich. The Spaniard is currently 1/2 with most bookmakers for the job, with Roberto second favourite at around 6/1. The Italian has even bigger odds to take over at the Nou Camp after Xavi announced he is leaving the club recently, and he is 12/1 in most places to get that position. 

In summary, the ex-Sassuolo boss has really shot up the ranks to even be in contention for either of these jobs and he has given the impression that if he were to be handed either role, he would be a perfect fit judged on the job he has done at Brighton. Therefore, if the current favourites Xabi Alonso or Hansi Flick for both jobs don’t put pen to paper, then he would be no inadequate replacement. Roberto’s side are away at Sheffield United this Sunday and, after their demolition of the Blades (2-5) in the fourth round of the FA Cup, it would be a shock if they weren’t able to play them off the park once more and secure all three points. With the game live on TV it gives the 44-year-old another chance to showcase De Zerbi ball and plead his case to take the next step in his career. Having started his managerial career in 2013 at Dargo Borario, who are an Italian Serie D side, it’s fair to say he has the ambition and drive to lead a big club.