Monday, October 3, 2022

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Who is Brighton’s new boss Roberto De Zerbi?

Possession, patience, penetration from wide areas.

These are all facets of the game that Brighton and Hove Albion fans are already familiar with, so it won’t be too surprising to learn that these are notable traits also associated with new head coach Roberto De Zerbi.

A few others that haven’t been as outstanding in the Italian boss’ repertoire, so far at least, are protecting the defense and collecting major trophies, but there’s reason to suspect that both could track in time as he now resumes a career. which had followed a decidedly upward trajectory.

The new man at the Amex Stadium is one of the most tactically exciting and relatively young bosses in Europe who chooses to coach in the same way he wanted to play, but already with more success in the dugout than he did not succeed on the field.

It’s an incredibly ambitious takeover from Brighton to take over from Graham Potter, a head coach who perhaps shouldn’t be freely available on the market – and wouldn’t be without external factors – and who offers them continuity at some respects, but also a risk/reward approach similar to the club’s own improvement that De Zerbi’s style of football itself has usually carried.

Potter, of course, took the Seagulls from a side that fights deep in every sense of the word, to a much more offensive and free-flowing side that can mix it up with their day’s best. They’re still looking to punch above their weight in terms of wage bills and influence over transfers, but doing so in a way that makes them an attractive team to watch – or even join.

His replacement is now tasked with doing the same, having left Shakhtar Donetsk earlier this year due to the invasion of Ukraine.

De Zerbi, 43, is an outspoken and insightful artist. He is absolutely committed to the idea of ​​football as a means of expression and enjoyment and plays his teams accordingly… very quickly. Beyond his formative spells with Darfo Boario, Foggia and Palermo – the latter usually a short stint at that club – he impressed Benevento despite relegation from Serie A, having taken over halfway through the 2017/18 campaign.

That summer he then took over at Sassuolo, his three years there earning him plaudits, progression and eventually a move to a side tasked with claiming silverware and regular European action, at Shakhtar.

Upon his arrival, he made it clear that he would continue his patented style of play to win with glorious spectacle: “The path to success must be chosen at the beginning of the path,” he said at his unveiling. “It is clear that victory, success, is the home stretch. But as a coach, I have to choose the path to follow for the team. If, for example, you score a goal from a set piece or after 20 consecutive passes, you can win either way, but they are two different ways to succeed.

That’s what Brighton now expects, with some differentiation between his style and Potter’s.

De Zerbi has regularly coached in a 4-2-3-1, favoring possession in deep areas to deflect opponents, then extremely fast upfield progressions to move upfield and beyond the front lines of pressure.

It’s not uncommon to see his defensive players – including the goalie – keeping the ball between them for surprisingly long periods, waiting for the chance to find the all-important double pivot who can take him on the turn and place the team in the field. . The inside forwards start wide from the sideline and attack in unison, with a No.10 acting as both a progressive possession aid and a genuine scoring threat. Not too much of that is much different from Potter’s Brighton – despite an inverted triangle in the center of the park for the most part – with even the tendency to push a full-back into a 3-4-3 or 3-2-5 in form now familiar to Amex regulars during times of sustained pressure.

Off the ball is where the change will be seen.

It’s hard to draw too many conclusions from his shortened spell in Eastern Europe, which lasted just 30 matches from appointment to invasion.

But in Sassuolo, a chaotic and forceful approach to losing possession could be both exciting to watch, rewarding to do and costly to circumvent.

Quick closing and aggressive one-on-one challenges in the middle could be beaten by changes of play or long balls behind midfield, leading to quick counters and lots of conceding. Defending set plays and crosses was also a problem, especially with too many green and black shirts caught in front of the ball. This is all in contrast to the organized lines in place in Brighton for the last year or so; By the time De Zerbi takes over as head coach, the Seagulls have the best defensive record in the Premier League.

As a player, he spent most of his career in the second division after being a youngster at AC Milan. He was a playmaker, a No 10, but at a time when the 4-4-2 reigned supreme in much of Europe, with no tolerance for the maverick who was nothing less than an elite.

Now, it’s almost mandatory that top teams have regimented possession awareness, well-trained individuals within a team ecosystem.

It will therefore be extremely interesting to follow the evolution of a coach who himself admitted that he “wore” the same number 10 on his back as a coach as he did as a player. “I do not want [players as] soldiers,” he said ahead of a Champions League game against Real Madrid last year. “There are 11 people who need another to coordinate them. But on the pitch the choice of game, passing, dribbling, shooting, occupying one position to the detriment of another, I want that to correspond 100% to footballers. Because today in football – and in life – there is a lot less courage and a lot less personality than 20 years ago.

A man who brought his own personality to the forefront of Italian and European football, more successfully as a manager than a player, will now look to do the same on these shores. Don’t expect it to be boring no matter how it turns out.

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