In Focus: Seagulls face a Bright future under De Zerbi
Roberto De Zerbi has picked up the mantle at Brighton and made them even better.
The Italian took the helm from Graham Potter last September and now finds himself in the midst of a battle to finish in the top four.
After a 4-0 thrashing of West Ham on Saturday, the Seagulls could move into the Champions League qualification spots if they win their three games in hand on Tottenham, and other results go their way.
With the South Coast side full of confidence as they prepare for Saturday's trip to Leeds, we take a look at the impact De Zerbi has had at Brighton.
Many fans were unsure of the quality De Zerbi would bring to England when he was appointed last year, but the 43-year-old has turned out to be a perfect fit for the Premier League.
His rise to the top was achieved through managerial spells at Sassuolo and Shakhtar Donetsk, where he implemented an attacking style of play that saw his sides score plenty of goals.
Only Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool have scored more times than the Seagulls this season, which is a testament to the former midfielder's footballing philosophy.
De Zerbi has a track record of developing young talent and getting the best out of a budget squad, therefore it is no surprise that the likes of Kaoru Mitoma and Evan Ferguson are coming into their own under his guidance.
Having helped Serie A outfit Sassuolo to an eighth-placed finish in consecutive seasons and guided Shakhtar to the Champions League group stage, there is an expectation that Brighton's head coach can transform Brighton into consistent top-half finishers.
His pedigree and experience may be heavily overshadowed by other managers in the top flight, but his time in charge of the FA Cup quarter-finalists has certainly caught the eye.
The Italian job
West Ham were swept aside at the Amex on Saturday. It was a clinic in attractive, inspiring football from the hosts.
The Seagulls inflicted a barrage of forward waves on the Hammers, recording 20 shots and 66% possession over the East London side.
Much of Brighton's dominance was down to their setup, with De Zerbi opting for a 4-2-3-1 that saw both Tariq Lamptey and Pervis Estupinan act as attackers rather than defenders.
Solly March and Mitoma were used as inverted wingers and worked well with the full-backs to ensure a threat on the wings and through the middle.
This approach has been a favourite under the Italian and the design allows his team to dominate the ball and initiate a high press when they lose possession.
Versatility and quick passing across the pitch means that a De Zerbi side can score from almost anywhere and this was on display last weekend with four different players getting on the scoresheet against the Hammers.
An upwards trend
It is hard to judge De Zerbi against his predecessor but there are some notable changes and improvements to how the Seagulls play under the former Shakhtar boss compared to Potter.
Last season, Brighton scored 42 goals, one fewer than they have in the current campaign under De Zerbi. The Amex outfit have been averaging 1.39 goals per match compared to 0.74 in 2021-22.
The increase in output in the final third is reflected in the rise in shots per game under the Brescia-born coach.
Brighton have averaged 14.65 shots per 90 minutes in the current campaign, whereas they were only recording 12.87 last season, with only four other teams tallying more.
But it is not only the work in the final third that is improving — the Seagulls have lost only 256 of their aerial duels and no team has been more successful in their individual battles.
So while there was a clear upwards trajectory under Potter, the Premier League's eighth-placed side are showing even more potential under a manager who is thriving at the top level.
On any comparison, De Zerbi said: "I watched a lot of the games under Potter, I like him, his style. Nothing more.
"I brought my idea. I didn’t want to make comparisons to Potter because I couldn’t be Potter, I could be myself, bring my idea and my vision of football."
Hungry for more
Having lost Leandro Trossard in January to Arsenal and seen Moises Caicedo publicly declare his desire to leave, De Zerbi faced a tough task keeping his squad moving in the right direction.
But the tactical innovator has relished the challenge.
He said: "If you see the table we can fight. We are playing very well and we can fight and we can try.
"I am enjoying working with these players because they have my same passion to improve."
After the trip to Elland Road, Brighton host old foes Crystal Palace before their FA Cup quarter-final clash with Grimsby.
If they are able to pocket a trio of victories from those encounters, hype and expectation surrounding De Zerbi's men will only increase further.