Back when Brighton hosted Manchester City in May, the Seagulls gave Pep Guardiola’s men one of the toughest tests they’d faced in a long time.
It wasn’t a war of attrition or packing men behind the ball that helped Brighton hold City to a 1-1 draw. Instead, they matched their illustrious opponents in terms of trying to keep the ball, playing on the front foot and going to footballing war with the beautiful game’s current superpower.
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Yes, City took the lead midway through the first half, but it was a lead they held for just 13 minutes. By the end of the game, Brighton had outperformed Guardiola’s side in terms of xG (2.37-1.82), shots attempted (20-13) and shots on target (7-4), while they managed a highly respectable 40% possession share. In an earlier 3-1 defeat at the Etihad, Brighton performed the miracle of seeing more of the ball than Man City — the possession team — with 52%, leaving quite the impression on Guardiola.
“The game was one of the toughest we could have faced because they propose a type of game that we are not used to, I would say a few teams are not used to,” Guardiola said at the time. “Outstanding the way they [Brighton] play. I’m a big admirer of Roberto and the way they play. We felt it, the players know it, how difficult it was.”
Luckily for City, they were already crowned champions by the time they left Brighton with a point in May and were more focused on the small matters of a Manchester derby FA Cup final and the Champions League final against Inter as they battled to secure a historic treble. But it was still another Brighton performance that served to further enhance Guardiola’s respect for Roberto De Zerbi, a man who could eventually replace him at the Etihad.
“That’s the next Man City manager,” Guardiola quipped to a trio of Brighton players in the Amex Stadium tunnel after that 1-1 draw, the Telegraph reports.
Once again this weekend, Manchester City and Brighton lock horns in a highly-anticipated clash for football purists.
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Statistically and stylistically, there are plenty of comparisons to be drawn between the two teams. In fact, Man City and Brighton fill the top two spots for a number of important metrics.
For example, it’s the Seagulls who have the highest non-penalty xG in the Premier League since De Zerbi took over from Graham Potter, trailed closely by City. And Brighton are second only to Man City for passes attempted during that time. In fact, Man City and Brighton are the only two teams to complete over 20,000 passes in the Premier League since Brighton appointed De Zerbi.
There’s also the small matter of Brighton — currently sixth in the table — being the Premier League’s top scorers so far this season with 21 goals; a position so often occupied by Man City.
For his part, Guardiola has been keen to stress that he and De Zerbi are not cut from the exact same cloth and that there are major differences in the way their teams play when it comes to the specifics.
“We don’t play similarly. [Brighton] are unique in how they play,” Guardiola said at his pre-match press conference, adding: “But we have some patterns, we are aggressive without the ball, high pressing, we want the ball like they do but the way they play is unique.”
However, he has once again been keen to smother the Italian with praise.
“He’s a handsome guy. I admire him for the fact that it doesn’t matter for the team he plays,” Guardiola said. “He’s proving you don’t need to be at top clubs where you can get the team to play the way you want. He is converting Brighton into a top club.”
If that’s not Guardiola trying to butter De Zerbi up, we’re not sure what is!
Guardiola’s contract at Manchester City is due to run until the end of next season and there’s every chance that between now and then, the club will convince him to stick around a little longer.
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Should they fail in that mission, they will have very, very big shoes to fill. He’s the greatest manager in the club’s history, and arguably the history of the sport, after all.
But then, De Zerbi is not too unaccustomed to filling big shoes. It’s easy to forget just how highly thought of Potter was before his failed Chelsea spell, while at Sassuolo, he took over from previous regimes that had earned promotion to Serie A, stabilised the club in the top-flight, and earned European qualification.
Picking your successor doesn’t always work out. Just look at how it went when Sir Alex Ferguson highlighted David Moyes as the man to take his place at Manchester United a decade ago.
On this occasion, however, there seem to be too many parallels to be drawn between the two managers on and off the pitch. Let’s see who gives who a footballing lesson on Saturday afternoon.