Brighton

4 things we learned from Roberto De Zerbi's first game in charge of Brighton

Scott McCarthy
Roberto De Zerbi took charge of Brighton for the first time in their 3-3 draw against Liverpool
Roberto De Zerbi took charge of Brighton for the first time in their 3-3 draw against Liverpool / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages
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Roberto De Zerbi could not have asked for a much harder first game in charge of Brighton.

A trip to Anfield to face Liverpool, the second-best team in the country after Manchester City, wasn't so much being thrown in at the deep end as being thrown in with an anchor strapped to his feet and his arms tied behind his back.

And yet De Zerbi did not sink. The Seagulls were superb on Merseyside, playing fearless football and taking the game to their illustrious hosts. A 3-3 draw was the least they deserved, and you know that to be the case when Jurgen Klopp praises the opponents when his side don't win, rather than blaming a gust of wind or the grass being too long.

Whisper it quietly, but Brighton actually looked better at times than they had done under Graham Potter. Early days it might be, but De Zerbi is already causing quite the stir on the south coast. If his side can pick up similar results from a tough set of October fixtures including Spurs, City and Potter's Chelsea, then it might be time to get really excited.

Here are four things we learned watching De Zerbi's Brighton for the first time.

1. Goals look guaranteed - at both ends

Leandro Trossard, Danny Welbeck
Brighton scored three times in De Zerbi's first game in charge / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

De Zerbi said in his first press conference that he always wants his teams to play bold, brave and risky football. But nobody really expected Brighton to go to Liverpool and relentlessly attack from the first whistle, did they?

Not Klopp, anyway. The Liverpool manager said afterwards: "Brighton set up in a really brave way. 3-4-3, the four midfielders in the box, two tens, two sixes...we couldn't really prepare for it because we had no idea what they would do."

The Albion scored twice inside the opening 17 minutes through Leandro Trossard. Brighton could feasibly have had five. Danny Welbeck put a free header straight at Alisson and the Liverpool goalkeeper also saved well from Welbeck and Trossard.

Such a blistering start showcased to the watching Premier League how De Zerbi intends to play. There was one very telling first half moment, though, only noticed by those paying close attention to what was happening to Anfield.

With the ball deep in Liverpool's half, De Zerbi urged his back three further forward. By the time the Brighton head coach had finished waving, Joel Veltman, Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster were 20 yards into Liverpool territory. De Zerbi wanted them high up the pitch, maintaining pressure on the opponents.

Such tactics will obviously leave Brighton very open and very susceptible to counter attacks. De Zerbi does not seem to care - his philosophy is to outscore the opposition. Matches involving De Zerbi's Sassulou side in Serie A averaged more than three goals per game.

Two things are certain about Brighton under the Italian: Goals will be guaranteed at both ends of the pitch, and it seems unlikely that Albion fans will sit through three months at the Amex without seeing the Seagulls score, as happened under Potter between January and April.

2. Brighton will become one of the fittest sides in the Premier League

Vincenzo Teresa
Fitness coach Vincenzo Teresa is one of De Zerbi's most trusted confidants / Jonathan Moscrop/GettyImages

More emphasis on attack was not the only noticeable difference between Potterball and De Zerbi. There was a marked increase in the intensity with which the Albion played, especially in that opening 20 minute spell when they should have put Liverpool to the sword.

One of the biggest criticisms of Potter during his three-and-a-half years in charge was that Brighton were too ponderous. The ball got stroked around from side to side at a slow pace, almost as if possession stats were more important than scoring goals.

Everything under De Zerbi was done with real speed. That partly explains the lull the Albion went through as Liverpool turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead; there was no way Brighton could maintain that intensity for an entire 90 minutes.

Suddenly, De Zerbi taking his two fitness coaches with him as his most trusted lieutenants at every club he has managed makes sense. Gregg Wallace look-a-like Vincenzo Teresa has been with De Zerbi at Palermo, Benevento, Sassuolo and Shakhtar. De Zerbi's association with Marcattilio Marcattilii goes back even further to Foggia in 2014.

To play the way De Zerbi wants, Brighton are going to have to become of the fittest teams in the league. Under normal circumstances, increasing fitness levels so dramatically in the middle of a Premier League season would be difficult. Lucky then that De Zerbi and his coaching team will have a mini pre-season to work with the players while the 2022 World Cup takes place in Qatar.

It might be that we only see the Seagulls really soar under De Zerbi in the second half of the campaign.

3. Leandro Trossard and Solly March will be key

Leandro Trossard
Trossard scored a hat-trick at Liverpool / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

Two players De Zerbi has been quick to highlight are Trossard and March. He is said to have told both he wants to help them score more goals, having identified that as being the area of the game they are open to the biggest improvement.

After 90 minutes, so far, so good. Trossard's treble at Anfield saw him become the first Brighton player to score a top flight hat-trick since Gordon Smith away at Coventry City 42 years ago. March was involved in everything good the Albion did in the first half.

Throughout his managerial career, De Zerbi has favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation. Against Liverpool, he stuck with Potter's three-man defence. If it isn't broke, don't fix it and all that. March and Trossard supported Welbeck in attack.

If De Zerbi does decide to adopt 4-2-3-1, then it is easy to see where Trossard and March fit in. They could both have a lot of fun buzzing around Welbeck as the two wide players in the three behind. Although Brighton might first want to tie Trossard down to a new contract before he turns too many more heads, what with his current deal about to enter its final 18 months.

4. Entertainment on the touchline

And in the unlikely event the football under De Zerbi is ever dull, the head coach himself has the potential to provide entertainment on the sideline. Brighton supporters who had gone down a De Zerbi-GIF rabbit hole already knew that thanks to the clip of him smashing up a tactics board in the dugout when things were not going well.

Against Liverpool, he produced an impeccable piece of control with the back of his foot from a wayward Robert Sanchez goal kick, flicking the ball into his own arms before throwing it away from Trent Alexander-Arnold.

De Zerbi's celebration of Trossard's third goal was equally enjoyable. He skipped around his technical area taking very small steps, like a child who has just been told dinner tonight is McDonald's and is struggling to contain their joy.

Not since Gus Poyet used to hide whenever Brighton were awarded a penalty have the Albion had such a passionate showman in the dugout. There could be a lot of drama, fun and frolics featuring De Zerbi in his technical area. And who is his first opponent as Brighton manager at the Amex? Antonio Conte. Expect fireworks.

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