Home News Roberto De Zerbi: Realistic next Liverpool manager or too many unknowns?

Roberto De Zerbi: Realistic next Liverpool manager or too many unknowns?

4
0

It speaks to the difficulty of accurately judging any manager’s body of work that, ahead of his latest trip to Anfield, Roberto De Zerbi’s chances of one day moving into the home dugout are deemed to have taken a hit.

This season, the Italian has led Brighton – yes, that’s Brighton – to eighth in the Premier League, and yet he has spent much of it facing criticism for perceived underperformance.

That is thanks in no small part to the ridiculous standard he set in taking the Seagulls to sixth last term, the consequences of which have been well and truly felt this time around.

That process started with the sales of Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister, whose value in the case of the former was underlined by a £110 million bid from Liverpool back in August, and for the latter through countless outstanding performances since a move to Merseyside.

As well as this summer talent drain, De Zerbi has also had to contend with the club’s first-ever European campaign, which brought unforgettable memories en route to defeat against AS Roma, but also placed strain on a small squad.

And yet amid all these difficulties, his team has continued to put up impressive numbers in terms of their underlying performance.

 

The ‘Brighton effect’?

BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 8, 2023: Liverpool's Alexis Mac Allister (R) and Brighton & Hove Albion's João Pedro during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the American Express Community Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Brighton sit fifth among all teams in Europe’s top five leagues for possession (62.3%) this season, and fourth for passes completed per 90 (p90) minutes (603.8), showing they are unusually good at dominating the ball for a side with their resources.

They also do plenty with it, too, posting the 10th-best rate of shots on target p90 (5.71), and sitting 15th for shot-creating actions p90 (27.14).

On the face of it, these are figures that show a talented manager getting more than should be expected from a wage bill that should have his side just above the relegation zone.

No wonder, then, that new Liverpool sporting director Richard Hughes is a big admirer, or that Bayern Munich are showing an interest ahead of a change of manager this summer.

BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 8, 2023: Brighton & Hove Albion's captain Lewis Dunk celebrates after scoring an equalising goal to level the score 2-2 during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the American Express Community Stadium. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Of course, it should not be forgotten that similar points were being made about Graham Potter during his time at the Amex Stadium, which preceded a fairly disastrous stint at Chelsea.

Potter’s struggles at Stamford Bridge are enough to make you question whether De Zerbi’s performance is also being subtly boosted by an unquantifiable ‘Brighton effect’ resulting from their almost unrivalled, data-led recruitment process.

Or if the occasional implosions that have seen his team beaten 6-1, 4-0 and 5-1 by Aston Villa, Luton and Everton, respectively, are a symptom of a deep systemic flaw that cannot be remedied by improved personnel.

And, as with everything relating to this topic, it is also difficult to judge whether De Zerbi possesses that special ‘winning trait’ boasted by all top managers.

 

The Anfield stage awaits…

BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 8, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp (R) and Brighton & Hove Albion's manager Roberto De Zerbi speak after the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the American Express Community Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

He may implement a style of football that is scalable to a club that expects to win every week, but how often do his teams nick a last-gasp winner after a poor performance, as Liverpool did against Nottingham Forest this season?

And can he inspire his troops to dig out victory in a crucial cup tie even when all seems lost, just as the Reds managed against Barcelona in 2019?

The unanswerable nature of these questions is perhaps why Xabi Alonso and Ruben Amorim’s experiences at more successful clubs had them ahead of De Zerbi in the running as we move towards the summer.

Alonso, who is now expected to stay at Leverkusen, finds himself on track to lift the Bundesliga title this season and remains in with a chance to show his cup prowess in both the DFB-Pokal and Europa League.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, October 1, 2022: Brighton & Hove Albion's Brighton & Hove Albion's manager Roberto De Zerbi (R) embraces Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Amorim, meanwhile, has lifted both the Primeira Liga title and multiple Portuguese League Cups across his spells at Braga and Sporting.

For that reason – and whether it is a fair judgement or not – both felt like safer bets to keep the success coming were they to succeed Klopp at Liverpool this summer.

But the good news for De Zerbi is that should he wish to strengthen his case, then he will have no better stage than an Anfield meeting with the man he might hope to follow on Sunday.