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Italian job at Anfield

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There are ample teams who, for the next season, are looking for managers. Liverpool, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich are the top three looking for a change, as their managers are scheduled to leave at the end of the current season. So, there is a lot of speculation on who could take charge of these clubs. One man who has been linked with two of these clubs is Roberto de Zerbi. We have already covered how he will fit in as Bayern Munich manager. However, de Zerbi’s style is actually more close to that of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

The German has had a successful tenure at Anfield winning eight trophies which include a Premier League and a Champions League. However, with his tenure coming to an end, Liverpool have made quick moves, appointing Richard Hughes as sporting director and Mark Burchill as chief scout.

Liverpool have a simple aim: make the environment as helpful as possible for the incoming manager. And this is where Roberto de Zerbi seems like a great appointment even though, for now, the club’s main target remains Bayer Leverkusen’s Xabi Alonso.

So, how will Roberto de Zerbi fit in as Liverpool’s manager?

Roberto de Zerbi Brighton stats 

One easy way to find how Roberto de Zerbi is good for Liverpool is to analyse his Brighton team. The team overview chart from data analytics site xValue shows us some clear similarities between the two teams. For instance, both teams have outperformed the league average on goals conceded, possession, Field Tilt, shots, and goals.

Before we move forward, we must establish that there is a gulf in class between the two sides. The reason for this is keeping this in mind will help us further to understand what amazing job de Zerbi has dons at the Amex.

Anyone who has watched even an iota of football that Liverpool play under Jurgen Klopp knows the basic philosophy of high pressing and dominating spaces. So, what are the metrics that measure high pressing. There are four basic metrics and we will analyse them one by one for both Brighton and Liverpool.

The first metric is undoubtedly the Gegenpressing Intensity Percentage (GPI). Liverpool are top on the metric but de Zerbi’s side Are also the fourth-best in the metric This shows that even Brighton play in a way that tries to allow their opponents as little time on the ball as possible.

Now, we go to the second metric in Field Tilt, a metric that measures how much possession an opponent has in the opposition’s half. This metric is an extension that proves that a team is playing such a high-pressing style that they don’t allow their rivals to have the ball even in their half. And both Liverpool and Brighton are among the top five in this metric.

The third metric is the Passes Allowed per Defensive Action (PPDA). So, what does the PPDA entail? It actually measures how many passes an opposition is allowed on the ball when they are performing a defensive action. Since the pressure on a player is least when they are playing passes or sideways, a lower PPDA number indicates that their opposition were playing a high press so intense that even initiating defensive actions was very difficult. Brighton rank as the fifth-best team on the metric, while the Reds are the top team in this regard.

However, there is one metric where Brighton have not been at their best, and it is the Buildup Disruption Percentage(BDP), which measures how often a team disrupts the opposition’s buildup either through a tackle or winning the ball.

Then, there are other metrics to look for. Brighton had 171 shots on target, only 28 less than Liverpool. Their shot accuracy is 40 per cent, the best in the league. They are also just behind the Reds in having touches in the opposition’s box. And the Seagulls have outperformed their much more stronger rivals on the total number of passes, the accuracy of those passes, and having the possession of the ball.

So, in short, de Zerbi has managed to make his team as identical as possible to Klopp’s team with the resources that he has at his disposal.

Roberto de Zerbi Brighton tactics 

Roberto De Zerbi is a man obsessed with having possession of the ball. However, he has managed to create a marriage between the Gegenpressing and the Spanish Tiki Taka system. This means that de Zerbi’s main focus is to keep the ball and initiate the high press as soon as they lose it. However, there is a method to the madness.

As much as he may be a supporter of the high press and possession based football, de Zerbi ensures that this does not occur at a loss of the team’s shape. Each player on the team is tasked with a specific role and knows where he should position himself according to any given situation.

Brighton have had more than 50 per cent of possession among the top five teams. This included games against Aston Villa, Chelsea, and Manchester United. This kind of system demands one specific thing: press-resistant players in the middle of the park. Billy Gilmour and Pascal Gross perfectly fit the bill.

Gross has ten assists, the most in the league, and has created the second-most chances in the league after Bruno Fernandes. Gilmour has been an able partner to the German.

Gross, along with his centre-backs Lewis Dunk and Jan Paul van Hecke, is among the top five passengers in the league. It is because Brighton follows the same pattern as the Reds, starting the play from the back to lure the opposition and disrupt their shape. This opens up spaces between the lines, which is where Brighton attackers shine the most. The major problem this season has been the disappointing performance of the strikers Joao Pedro and Evan Ferguson. In fact, no player has managed to hit double figures as a striker, which shows how lacklustre the attacker has been.

Despite that, Brighton have not abandoned their high pressing style which shows de Zerbi’s confidence in his methods something eerily similar to Klopp.

Roberto de Zerbi at Liverpool

Now the question remains how de Zerbi will fit in at Liverpool. Till now, we have proven by stats as well as tactics that the Italian might be the closest thing to Jurgen Klopp. However, de Zerbi also has other tricks up his sleeve. Klopp was not only known for his brilliant tactical vision but also for his incredible man management.

The rise of several youngsters at the club this season is a perfect example of how good the German has been in getting the best out of the young talent at his disposal. This is what de Zerbi has achieved integrating players like Gilmour, Ferguson, Simon Adingra, and Tariq Lamptey which aligns with the Liverpool vision.

When quizzed on whether he would stay at Brighton, de Zerbis said, “No, no. My focus is on Brighton this season, the next season. But the next season, before to start the season, I would like to speak and I would like to listen to the plan of the team. It is a serious thing.”

This is perhaps an indication that he could be the main man at Anfield come next season.

Saumy Deepak Tripathi
A Bayern Munich fan who is deeply in love with football statistics. Has a soft spot for goalkeepers! (well only he knows why). You’ll find him vibing on 70’s classic songs and spends an abnormal amount of time cooking.

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