Roberto de Zerbi’s Brighton is on track to earn a surprising Europa League sport after their 3-0 victory at the Emirates. Just what sort of tactics has the Italian manager employed to turn Brighton into one of the Premier League’s best teams in 2023?
In truth, a mix of various factors has been in play. Good recruitment, sensible club policies and the work of De Zerbi’s predecessor, Graham Potter, have all played a part in the club’s success.
Today, I’ll be looking to do a tactical analysis of De Zerbi’s style of football that have made him one of the most talked-about football managers in recent times.
Roberto de Zerbi pre-managerial career
Roberto de Zerbi had a respectable playing career before slowly, but steadily earning plenty of plaudits as a football manager. Many doubted that he’d be able to employ the tactics that worked for him in Serie A, but so far, De Zerbi has proven them wrong.
De Zerbi made his playing debut for AC Milan in 1998. However, he earned a reputation as a dependable, if unexciting, attacking midfielder. His tenure spent at Napoli, between 2006 and 2010, was the highlight of his career as a player.
After retiring, De Zerbi made an immediate transition to management. He started off coaching his former club Foggia where his innovative, attacking style of play made an immediate impression. Employment at Palermo and Benevento followed.
De Zerbi made an impression during his tenure at Sassuolo. Appointed head coach in 2018, De Zerbi transformed them into one of Serie A’s most engaging teams to watch. The team’s style emphasized possession, fluid movement, and creative play. His tactical acumen and ability to nurture young talents earned him another notable employment opportunity with Ukrainian giants Shakhtar Donetsk before joining Brighton in 2022.
Yes, Roberto de Zerbi inherited an already well-prepared Brighton team courtesy of Graham Potter. In fact, the Italian’s style closely resembles that of Potter, who used the Brighton job as a springboard to earning a brief chance to manage Chelsea.
Fellow managers such as Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola or Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta have shown their appreciation to Brighton’s stars Pascal Groß or World Cup champion Alexis Mac Allister, who has lauded De Zerbi for his modern tactical approach. This includes a desire to maintain possession, to press high, and to play within a strict tactical setup.
Yes, this could describe plenty of the Premier League’s managers. But De Zerbi is the tactician that has helped his team to punch above its wait more than any other. Let’s look at some details that have helped him achieve this.
Formation and tactics
While the intricate dynamics of Graham Potter’s strategies dominated Brighton’s gameplay, Roberto de Zerbi has maintained a relatively steadfast approach within the confines of a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The intent has always been for any tactical adjustments to be subtle, with a continued focus on possession and fluid movements on the field. Notably, Brighton stands out in the Premier League for their exceptional ability to score goals from midfield. Initially adopting a 3-4-2-1 formation under Potter’s tenure, De Zerbi has since transitioned the team into a settled back-four system.
De Zerbi’s influence on Brighton’s style of play manifests in the elegant positioning of their full-backs. The players in wide areas hold their width while maintaining a defensive presence in the midfield. This delicate orchestration results in a 2-4-4 formation during possession, where the wide attacking players surge forward. This and the influence of the strikers and playmakers allow them to contribute, often decisively, offensively.
Brighton in attack
As Brighton ventures into the opponent’s half, their shape changes into a 2-2-6 configuration. The system beckons the widest players to cut inside with the ball, employing precise passes and organized player movement around the fringes of the penalty area. It is a sports symphony of patient artistry designed to lure and provoke the opponent.
Brighton’s central midfielders sit close together, allowing for passing rotations between themselves and the defenders, ensuring continuous ball movement. Their patient style focuses on circulating the ball until a suitable opportunity arises to pass vertically and involve the four attack-minded players, creating numerical advantages against the opposition defense.
Brighton prefers short passes from the back and looks to work the ball into the box rather than relying on crosses when attacking. During transitions, they maintain a slow tempo, playing out from the back by passing between the central defenders and full-backs.
Brighton in defence
Brighton adopts a mid-block during the opposition’s possession, dropping back and pressing once the opponents enter their half. The defensive shape typically aligns with their starting formation, transitioning between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2.
However, the key focus lies in the defensive shape and how Brighton presses to neutralize the opposition’s influential players. In their quest to limit the impact of key opponents and disrupt their tactical plans, Brighton’s forwards split apart to press full-backs, extending their reach to the outside center-backs. At times, the central midfielders may over-compact, seeking to overload one side of the pitch.
De Zerbi emphasizes the importance of defenders in the centre part of the pitch, enjoying the responsibility of holding and building the game from the back, understanding that everything originates from their composed presence.
This possession-oriented style aims to entice opponents into overextending their press, creating gaps for Brighton to navigate and play their way out of tight situations.
One of the notable moves under De Zerbi’s tenure has been the transformation of Pascal Groß into a right-back, a position he rarely played under Potter. Initially flourishing as an attacking midfielder in the right-half spaces, Groß has seamlessly transitioned into his new role as a fullback, maintaining his excellent scoring form along the way.
De Zerbi has also managed to get world-class performances out of players like Solly March, Kaoru Mitoma, and carrillero Moises Caicedo. All of them are being scouted by some of Europe’s giants.
De Zerbi’s future
Like Potter before him, De Zerbi has captured the attention of some of EPL’s biggest teams. Victories against the likes of Manchester United or Arsenal will naturally help to do that.
Roberto de Zerbi looks like a manager destined to lead an important club in the Champions League. Whether this happens sooner rather than later remains to be seen. Brighton fans, for now, ought to appreciate the clear, undeniable achievements of the team. And. why not dream of Europa League glory next season too?