Roberto De Zerbi is one of the favourites to replace Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool but Brighton have hit a bad run of form with three wins in 16… so, how good is the Italian and what's going on with the Seagulls?
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Roberto De Zerbi is one of the favourites to replace Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool but Brighton have hit a bad run of form with three wins in 16… so, how good is the Italian and what's going on with the Seagulls?

Feb 1, 2024

Brighton manager Roberto de Zerbi is widely regarded as one of the best young managers in Europe, and has been linked with some of the continent’s top jobs despite his coaching career still being young.

Taking over from Graham Potter in the early months of last season, the 44-year-old took the Seagulls to European qualification for the first time in their history, and they and now preparing for a Europa League last 16 tie in around six weeks’ time.

The Italian is one of the front-runners to replace Jurgen Klopp, backed alongside the likes of Xabi Alonso and Ruben Amorim, after the German announced he will be leaving Liverpool at the end of the season, and it seems a matter of when he will get a top job, rather than if.

But things seem to be drifting at the Amex. Brighton, though they are eighth in the Premier League table, have won just three of their last 16 matches, and suffered possibly their worst result of the season when they were dealt a 4-0 loss at the hands of Luton on Tuesday.

But is the dip in form something to be concerned about? Could his side’s loss of form be coming at just the wrong time for De Zerbi, and can he turn it around? Here, Mail Sport take a look at what’s really going on at the Amex, and whether Brighton’s manager should be under consideration for some of European football’s top jobs.

Roberto de Zerbi is widely regarded as one of the best young managers on the European scene

Roberto de Zerbi is widely regarded as one of the best young managers on the European scene

His Brighton side are, however, struggling, having picked up just three wins in their last 16 Premier League games

His Brighton side are, however, struggling, having picked up just three wins in their last 16 Premier League games

De Zerbi has generally been a huge success since taking over from Graham Potter (right) in September 2022

De Zerbi has generally been a huge success since taking over from Graham Potter (right) in September 2022

The Italian’s impact

When De Zerbi took over from Potter on September 18 2022, Brighton were fourth in the Premier League table having taken 13 points from their first six matches before losing their manger to Chelsea.

In his first match in charge, the 44-year-old oversaw a 3-3 draw with Chelsea, with Leandro Trossard scoring the side’s first-ever Premier League hat-trick. The pair would later fall out before the Belgian’s move to Arsenal.

He hailed his players as ‘fantastic’ despite a 1-0 loss to Tottenham in their next match, and his witty, to-the-point press conferences quickly won supporters over. That alongside tactical nous and passion on the sidelines, Brighton fans started to sense they had someone special in charge.

Over the season, Brighton enjoyed some big wins – including a 6-0 thumping of Wolves – and some big losses – such as a 5-1 hammering by Everton. But an FA Cup semi-final and a seventh-place finish secured a positive season, with Brighton suddenly facing a fight to keep hold of their man.

De Zerbi made an immediate impact at the club, taking them to a sixth-place finish in the league last season

De Zerbi made an immediate impact at the club, taking them to a sixth-place finish in the league last season

His work also meant Brighton qualified for Europe for the first time in the club's entire history

His work also meant Brighton qualified for Europe for the first time in the club’s entire history

This season

Brighton’s season this term started similar to the last. After six games, Brighton were second in the league table and had won five of their matches, two points better off than the at same time under Potter, who had long been sacked by Chelsea.

De Zerbi had options, too. Pervis Estupinan was shining at left-back, Pascal Gross was pulling the strings in midfield and Evan Ferguson and Danny Welbeck were rotating well up front.

Suddenly, however, injuries hit. Summer signing Ansu Fati did his hamstring, Kaoru Mitoma his ankle and Ferguson his knee. There were more, too. Brighton had options, but their star players began to drop like flies.

De Zerbi has found solutions, such as Estupinan filling in at centre-back and the evergreen James Milner filling in a number of roles, as he does. Rarely this season, however, has he had his best side fit, and the form has suffered.

Things haven't been as positive this season despite a positive start to the campaign, however

Things haven’t been as positive this season despite a positive start to the campaign, however

A number of players have been lost to injury, including summer signing Ansu Fati (pictured)

A number of players have been lost to injury, including summer signing Ansu Fati (pictured)

Recent form

Brighton’s struggles came to a head on Tuesday with defeat to Luton. The club have issues, but none so deep that they should be hammered by one of the relegation favouritres.

The three wins in the 16-game run have come against Nottingham Forest, Brentford and Tottenham. In that time they have failed to beat Burnley, Sheffield United and Luton. A 6-1 defeat to Aston Villa has been thrown in there too.

A Champions League push has turned into the Seagulls clinging onto their place in the top half. They are now just four points ahead of 11th-place Wolves, who have a game in hand, and who they were perhaps lucky to draw 0-0 with a week-or-so ago.

They remain in the FA Cup and in Europe so there’s no danger of the season petering out just yet. But a failure to finish in the top seven feels  as if it would be underwhelming.

Brighton have picked up just three wins in their last 16 league matches and lost 4-0 to Luton on Tuesday night

Brighton have picked up just three wins in their last 16 league matches and lost 4-0 to Luton on Tuesday night

What the fans think

It’s pretty clear the fans’ opinions haven’t wavered. De Zerbi has almost unlimited credit in the bank due to the memories he has given them in Europe.

‘Not a chance,’ one fan posted on social media when asked if the Italian could in fact be sacked before one of Europe’s elite pick him up. ‘Top of the Europa group of death. Through to FA cup 5th Round. 8th in the league.

‘If this is our dip in form, with key players coming back, the business end of the season is going to be one hell of a ride. Strap yourselves in and enjoy.’

Another added: ‘Last night was proper awful. When it goes wrong for us, it goes very wrong.

‘Luton were great – not just physically, they pressed well and had quality going forward. It was game over before it even started. One of those days. We move.’

It will be a while before they turn. 

Fans haven't turned on their manager, however, and the Italian has plenty of credit in the bank

Fans haven’t turned on their manager, however, and the Italian has plenty of credit in the bank

It seems the 44-year-old has almost unlimited credit in the bank after he delivered European football last season

It seems the 44-year-old has almost unlimited credit in the bank after he delivered European football last season

De Zerbi and the fans have built a strong bond during the Italian's 16 months on the south coast

De Zerbi and the fans have built a strong bond during the Italian’s 16 months on the south coast

Could he replace Klopp?

Liverpool have to get it right when they pick Klopp’s replacement. The German’s shoes will be comfortable and appealing, but also big, and it would be a risk to appoint any manager without a proven track record – including Alonso – though that will likely happen.

Depending on when a decision and/or announcement is made, the rest of this season could play a part. Alonso is unbeaten and top of the Bundesliga and Amorim is top of the Primeira Liga. De Zerbi’s side are slipping.

But he has been touted as a long-term replacement for the likes of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid. Again – it feels as though it’s when he gets a major move, not if.

It's possible that he could replace the outgoing Jurgen Klopp (left) at Liverpool next season

It’s possible that he could replace the outgoing Jurgen Klopp (left) at Liverpool next season

The move to Liverpool could be a little too early. It could just be that Alonso and Liverpool are a match made in heaven.

It’s clear De Zerbi still has plenty to learn. But he would fit the mould of what a Liverpool manager arguably should be: tactically astute, aura bursting out their eyes and willing to run through brick walls for his team. It’s possible. 

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