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Why Roberto De Zerbi might not “suit” Liverpool – and the weakness to “exploit”

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Liverpool return to action with an awkward-looking visit of Brighton this weekend, in what promises to be a fascinating tactical battle.

Almost two weeks have passed since the Reds’ FA Cup elimination at Man United, but attention now turns to a thrilling Premier League finale.

Liverpool are 10 games from glory, with Sunday’s huge clash with Brighton at Anfield preceding Man City playing host to Arsenal later in the day.

The Seagulls haven’t always hit the heights of last season, but they are still eighth in the table and capable of beating anyone on their day.

With the game getting closer, we spoke to football finance expert and Brighton fan Kieran Maguire (@KieranMaguire) to get the lowdown on the Seagulls, Roberto De Zerbi, Jurgen Klopp and more.

 

How happy are you with Brighton’s progress this season?

BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 29, 2023: Brighton & Hove Albion's Kaoru Mitoma celebrates after scoring the winning second goal during the FA Cup 4th Round match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. Brighton won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I’m delighted with the season. Trips to Amsterdam, Athens, Marseille and Rome created lifelong memories and the football quality in the main has been exceptional, even if results have been erratic.

It has also been a reality check, though, because a club the size of Brighton does not have the resources to be competitive in the Premier League and also cope with Thursday-Sunday games, and that has showed.

Now that we are out of the domestic cups and the Europa League, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season pans out.

With a very tough set of home fixtures – both Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Arsenal – I suspect we may be getting a degree of support from the red half of Liverpool.

 

Who has stood out and struggled the most for the Seagulls?

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)

Joao Pedro has been standout once he found his feet. It’s now a question of how long he stays at the club. He’s returning from an injury that kept him out for six weeks and that may take attention away from his progress this season.

Excellent close control, decent if not spectacular in the air, plenty of pace – he isn’t a centre forward but is someone who adds a lot to the attack.

Jan Paul van Hecke has also shone. Now a first-choice centre-back, he is strong and good in the air – you wouldn’t fancy a scrap with him and he always looks pissed off if Brighton lose.

Billy Gilmour has found his place this season, too, and is an old-school Scottish midfielder who always wants the ball. He needs to score a goal at some point in his club career, though!

The two players signed to fill in the gaps left by Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister have not found it easy, though.

Mahmoud Dahoud never seemed to win over Roberto De Zerbi, and a red card at home to Sheffield United, which cost the club a victory, meant he was quickly on the ‘Do One’ plane back to Germany, where he has not impressed the locals at Stuttgart.

Ansu Fati was a season-long loan signing from Barcelona and he has given a series of forgettable performances with the impression he would rather be somewhere a bit drier than England in 2024.

 

Is De Zerbi on his way elsewhere this summer?

BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Saturday, January 14, 2023: Brighton & Hove Albion's manager Roberto De Zerbi during the FA Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Liverpool FC at the Falmer Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Probably. The potential to coach a club with a bigger budget than Brighton will be tempting.

There have been a couple of interviews where he appeared to indicate the club were not willing to spend heavily in the transfer window.

Meanwhile, a ‘will he, won’t he?’ pantomime about signing a new contract further suggests that he is open to offers during a summer in which there are likely to be changes at a few big clubs.

 

Do you think he would be a good choice for Liverpool?

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

No. As much as I love him to bits, I’m not sure the amount of risk-taking he is prepared to take on would suit a club such as Liverpool.

De Zerbi is charming, personable, has a decent rapport with the crowd and lives and breathes the game, and while his tactical skillset is exciting, it doesn’t always lead to victories.

 

What are your thoughts on Klopp’s shock departure?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 17, 2024: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp waves to the supporters after the FA Cup Quarter-Final match between Manchester United FC and Liverpool FC at Old Trafford. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I don’t think it was a shock.

Klopp is first and foremost a great person with a set of values and beliefs that any decent person would endorse.

He is also a family man and wants to have a work/life balance, which is not possible at the elite end of the Premier League.

Although he can be grumpy, as evidenced by his behaviour on the rare occasions Liverpool lose a match, he will be missed.

 

How do you assess Liverpool’s title chances now?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 10, 2024: Liverpool's Alexis Mac Allister celebrates after scoring the his side's first equalising goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I think they are very slight favourites.

Man City are a magnificent machine and don’t get the credit for the incredible football that they play, but a regularly injured John Stones and Kevin De Bruyne, and reliance on the amazing Erling Haaland, means they can have an off day, even if their results in the second half of seasons have been off the scale in recent years.

Arsenal have lasted the distance to date, and are again excellent to watch, but I feel that they perhaps have a couple of poor performances left this season when no one can afford to drop anything other than the occasional point.

 

As for Sunday’s clash at Anfield, where will the key battles take place?

BRIGHTON & HOVE, ENGLAND - Sunday, October 8, 2023: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah 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)

Out wide, Brighton have looked vulnerable too often, partly due to often playing a 3-2-5 formation and getting caught out by opponents breaking from wide positions.

Liverpool have the quarterbacks to shift the attack from one side to another, plus the pace to exploit this weakness.

 

If you could only have one Liverpool player at Brighton, who would it be and why?

2M90NC7 Brighton's Alexis Mac Allister with World Cup winners medal and replica cup acknowledges fans before the Brighton v Liverpool game 14th January 2023

Mac Allister. World Cup winner, thoroughly decent person, and hugely underrated and incredibly flexible player.

He was a bargain for Liverpool.

 

Finally, what’s your prediction?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 10, 2024: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp applauds the supporters after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Manchester City FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A fairly routine 3-0 victory for Liverpool.