Although an outlandish suggestion before a ball was kicked this season, Brighton have continued to defy expectations and prove a club of genuine style and substance. Potter and now De Zerbi have produced a team blessed with a variable balance of artistic self-expression, discipline and control.
The result has seen the South Coast club play some scintillating football, but also pick up results (often comprehensively) along the way. Despite managerial upheaval, Brighton’s continued success near the Premier League’s upper slopes has underlined their pragmatism behind the scenes, and a confidence on the pitch.
That the club have claimed the scalps of Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United this season (as well as drawing against the Reds), serves well to illustrate their belief in pushing for the division’s European places — though as things currently stand, they are eight points adrift of fourth-placed Man Utd.
With such a wide gap, it is perhaps a stretch to consider Brighton as genuine top-four contenders, but they are only eight points behind third-placed Newcastle as well, and have played a game less. Win that, and De Zerbi’s men will be just five points behind Newcastle, making the dream a tad more realistic.
De Zerbi most notably arose to prominence in Serie A with Sassuolo, where he was praised for playing an eye-pleasing brand of football and overachieving when it came to results. That blend makes him almost tailor-made for Brighton, where Potter was famed for producing a similar outcome.
With few signs that the honeymoon period between Brighton and De Zerbi is on the wane, the Seagulls will fancy their chances of finishing in the top six. A recent 3-0 win over Liverpool has kept the terraces bouncing and underpinned their confidence heading into the second half of the campaign.
With emerging superstars like Moises Caicedo, Kaoru Mitoma and Alexis Mac Allister, Brighton have the momentum, talent and tactical malleability to keep the wheels in motion. If De Zerbi can avoid a South Coast pillaging from covetous eyes this winter, then there’s no reason why Brighton can’t continue as they are.
Yet to qualify for Europe in their history, Brighton are currently sixth in the table and four points behind fifth-placed Tottenham, who have played two games more. Win their games in hand and they’ll go above Spurs into fifth, and subsequently be six points ahead of Fulham who are in seventh.
Of course, it’s not just the Premier League where Brighton’s focus will be centred on. Roberto De Zerbi masterminded a League Cup win over Arsenal earlier this season, so will know his side can match the perennial heavyweights in English football’s domestic cups.
They are no longer in the League Cup, exiting (quite surprisingly) to Charlton Athletic on penalties in the fourth round. But, Middlesbrough appeared to take the brunt of their frustration in the FA Cup, as Brighton battered them 5-1 in the third round earlier this month.
They next faced either Liverpool. Given they have beaten both clubs in the Premier League this term, and drawn their other game with Liverpool while scoring three goals in each contest, De Zerbi fancied his chances. Paddy Power are offering 12/1 for Brighton to go all the way.
The club ultimately did the business over Liverpool again. It’s worth noting Jurgen Klopp recently described his side’s 3-0 capitulation against them as the worst result of his entire career.
“Massively frustrated. Congrats to Brighton, they played a super game against a bad opponent. We were really not good today and I can’t remember a good phase, period or whatever,” he said to PLP. “We tried to help the boys with a different formation but it didn’t work out at all. My responsibility, I know that. Tried to change it again in the second half but we were completely on the wrong foot.
“In moments it looked too easy for Brighton, the organisation was completely gone. It was too easy. It was just too easy and you cannot get back in this game. I can’t remember a worse game, not just at Liverpool, and that’s my responsibility. It’s a low point.”