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Brighton news: Roma defeat proof De Zerbi isn’t ready for Liverpool or Chelsea

Roberto De Zerbi, Brighton, Liverpool, Chelsea, 2023/24

Roberto De Zerbi has been heavily linked with a Brighton & Hove Albion exit for over a year, but his side’s 4-0 defeat against AS Roma on Thursday night was indicative of why he shouldn’t be the prime candidate for any top jobs this summer.

The former Sassuolo head coach stunned English football last season, with his tactical blueprint enabling Brighton to qualify for the Europa League for the very first time in their history.

He masterminded a system that baited opponents into pressing, before utilising small passes to unlock the door and create bundles of chances.

It was mesmerising and a joy to behold.

After two defeats and two draws during his opening four games at the AMEX Stadium, De Zerbi’s side were soon unplayable, and they recorded impressive victories over Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United.

By the end of the 2022-23 campaign, it was fair to say they were one of the best teams in the entirety of Europe.

However, the summer sales of Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister were extremely detrimental and Levi Colwill’s loan return to Chelsea was also a hammer blow for De Zerbi.

As a result, his squad this season has suffered a fairly severe drop in quality.

But, that doesn’t quite excuse their huge defensive frailties.

Brighton’s MAJOR defensive issues

It must be noted that Brighton lost their two midfield pillars last summer and have been dealt a tough hand with regards to injuries this season, however the Seagulls are simply far too porous at the back and De Zerbi is to blame.

The Italian has a clear methodology and it’s one that he is not willing to stray from; Brighton want to dominate proceedings by baiting the press, playing short combination passes and finding the free man.

Moises Caicedo left Brighton & Hove Albion last summer
© IMAGO – Moises Caicedo left Brighton & Hove Albion last summer

Out of possession, they want to press high and go man-for-man in a bid to win the ball back in a dangerous area.

Against Roma, that meant Igor Julio was tasked with man-marking Paulo Dybala. It’s a tactic that De Zerbi has used before at Brighton, although the only memorable occasion was twice against Arsenal, with the aforementioned Colwill tasked with following Martin Odegaard.

It paid off once – during the 3-0 thrashing at the Emirates Stadium in May 2023 – and it was a disaster once – during the 4-2 loss at home on New Years’ Eve.

In Brighton’s defeat against Arsenal, one moment stands out in particular. Colwill was too late to press Odegaard in the middle of the pitch, who had ample time to play a ball in behind for Gabriel Martinelli to finish well on the counter-attack.

Versus Roma, Igor was also left chasing shadows.

The role clearly didn’t suit him and he was one of Brighton’s worst players on the night.

The former Fiorentina man stood still and watched Dybala as he ran in behind for Roma’s opener, while the fourth goal was scored in the area in which Igor should’ve been protecting.

However, the Brazilian followed Dybala at the front post, ensuring he was in the same space as Jan Paul van Hecke, Pascal Gross and Lewis Dunk, and that allowed Bryan Cristante to glide into the six-yard box and head home with no Brighton defender challenging him.

It’s worth mentioning that Roma’s second goal, right before half-time, came following a huge error from Dunk, but the finger must also be pointed at De Zerbi for creating a culture where Dunk feels it necessary to bring the ball down rather than clear it out of play in a dangerous area.

Brighton must now overturn a 4-0 deficit in the second-leg if their European adventure is to continue.

How many goals have Brighton conceded in 2023-24?

The Seagulls have conceded 59 goals in 38 games in all competitions so far this season and their results include a 3-2 loss against AEK Athens, a 6-1 loss against Aston Villa, a 3-2 loss against Chelsea, a 4-0 loss against Luton Town, a 3-0 loss against Fulham and a 4-0 loss against Roma.

The Seagulls have kept seven clean sheets this campaign, but just three have come in the Premier League – with only Burnley, Luton and Sheffield United keeping less in the English top flight.

Furthermore, they are prone to a defensive collapse and De Zerbi’s system – which relies on pressing high and going man-for-man at the back – is to blame.

He is an excellent attacking coach and Brighton continue to create multiple chances per game, but De Zerbi’s inability to prioritise defensive structure means that he would be an extremely risky appointment for a top club.

Of course, on first viewing, his attacking principles would seemingly stack up well at a big club expected to dominate the ball, but out-of-possession shape is just as important and it’s why Manchester City have won so many titles in recent years – they are brilliant going forward, but their defensive structure is also top notch.

De Zerbi must learn how to coach a competent defence, one which isn’t constantly exposed, before he is considered a top candidate for the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea or Man City.

He has been linked with all three clubs over the past year, however the Italian is best served remaining at Brighton until the deficiencies in his coaching style are ironed out.

Read more about: Serie A, Premier League, Brighton, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City, Roma, Alexis Mac Allister, B. Cristante, Igor, Jan Paul van Hecke, Levi Colwill, Lewis Dunk, Moises Caicedo, Pascal Groß, Paulo Dybala

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