When Graham Potter was poached by Chelsea in early September, many onlookers felt that was the end of Brighton & Hove Albion's dreams of disturbing the Premier League's European places. Their influential manager had not only gone, but taken a large chunk of the backroom staff and Marc Cucurella with him.
It was a brutal body blow for Brighton, but they simply dusted themselves down and went about finding his replacement. It took 11 days, but finally they appointed Roberto De Zerbi, a man with almost no reputation on these shores even if he’d done well with Sassuolo and won the league title with Shakhtar Donetsk.
It has only been five months, but De Zerbi has gone about making Brighton even better than they were under Potter. That’s quite some achievement given the plaudits the Englishman was receiving for finishing ninth last term. The style of play has improved drastically and now, unlike last season, Brighton are taking their chances.
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The stats behind the De Zerbi revolution are seriously impressive. As discussed on Sky Sports' Monday Night Football, the Italian manager has turned Brighton into one of the most dominant teams in the division. A team that loves to keep the ball, play out from the back and create big chances.
In fact, since the new boss arrived on the south coast, Brighton have gone from creating 1.6 big chances a game (11th in the league) to third with three big chances per game. Their xG per shot and shot conversion rate have dramatically increased, which in turn has led to a remarkable run of goals.
Brighton have now scored 31 goals in the Premier League since De Zerbi took charge, only Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool have scored more and the Reds only overtook Brighton thanks to their seven-goal haul against Manchester United.
But their form in front of goal comes from a solid base and a wonderful passing style. They have the highest possession stats in the league, which is a remarkable feat when you consider how dominant the likes of Arsenal and Man City have been this term.
Roberto De Zerbi says he wants to rewrite the history of the club 💪
“They’re actually performing so well that the manager will have eyes on him at home and abroad.” Jamie Carragher said on Sky Sports. “I think there will be clubs looking to take him in the summer. His team are competing in those numbers with Arsenal and Manchester City.
“Their possession is the best in the league. It’s better than Man City. It’s unbelievable, the job they are doing and how they are going about it.”
In the top five leagues, only Barcelona and Bayern Munich have averaged more possession than Brighton’s 62% since October while Lewis Dunk has averaged more passes per 90 than any other player in the Premier League. The defenders are key in how De Zerbi wants to build from the back, while patience is key. Only Guardiola’s side (4.9) have averaged more passes per sequence of play than the Seagulls (4.5).
Their star wingers Solly March and Kaoru Mitoma are now in the top 10 for dribbles completed while Brighton are one of only three teams - you can guess the other two - averaging more than three big chances per game in the Premier League.
All of these stats show us that Brighton are doing well to compete for a top-seven spot, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them achieve even more while De Zerbi is in charge. The only issue they have now is keeping hold of a manager who has caught the eye of every top club around Europe.
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