Brighton have become the Premier League’s great entertainers

Brighton & Hove Albion aren’t just winning games under Roberto De Zerbi. He has also turned them into the Premier League’s great entertainers.

Saturday’s 4-1 victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers, after beating Luton Town at home by the same score in the opening game of the season, added weight to the argument that Brighton are more fun to watch than any other team — including Manchester City.

There’s more jeopardy and uncertainty with De Zerbi’s thrillers than is often the case with Pep Guardiola’s dominant treble winners.

Brighton have scored and conceded in 22 of their 34 league games under the Italian, including in their past six games. Those 34 matches have seen 119 goals (69 for, 50 against), the most of any side in the competition since the Italian’s appointment last September.

From the moment De Zerbi launched his reign with a 3-3 draw against Liverpool at Anfield, Brighton have been invigorating, pulsating, frightening and compelling.

Word is getting around about his edge-of-the-seat style — playing out scarily from the back, the passing patterns, attacking with speed and fluidity.

The club’s social media following has grown by more than 350 per cent since De Zerbi took charge, a figure driven mainly by international fans. Use of the club’s website and app has increased by more than 110 per cent. Use of these tools from Italy has soared beyond a 200 per cent increase.

De Zerbi set a high bar last season. Brighton finished sixth in the table to qualify for Europe for the first time in their history.

When the draw is made for the group stages of the Europa League in Monaco on September 1, they will be in the pot with teams including Liverpool, Roma, Marseille, Bayer Leverkusen and Villarreal.

In 2022-23, they broke new ground by winning six games more than ever before (18 in total) in the club’s sixth successive season in the top flight.

They scored 72 goals, compared to a previous high of 42. Club records were obliterated at every turn.

It’s not just about internal landmarks. Brighton are competing with, and often beating, the best — two wins against Liverpool, Manchester United (one of those under De Zerbi’s predecessor Graham Potter) and Chelsea last season, destroying runners-up Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates.

They are doing it with panache as well. Across De Zerbi’s period in charge, they have the highest expected goals (xG) per game (excluding penalties) in the league, which suggests they are creating more chances of a higher quality than any other side.

De Zerbi is reluctant to take much credit for the weight of evidence supporting his acumen as a coach, pointing out none of it would be possible without quality players.

“Every coach works to reach the best result, but you can work on organisation, style of play, the technology you give the players,” he says.

“You can reach the result with good players and score a lot of goals like these two games. I’m lucky to be the coach of Brighton.

“I’m happy because I have a lot of great players — maybe not as famous as in other big teams in the world, but on the pitch in terms of performances they are very important players.”

This was evident in abundance at Molineux against Wolves, especially via De Zerbi’s inverted wingers. Two games in, Kaoru Mitoma produced an early contender for goal of the season.

The Japanese winger, hugging the left-hand touchline, cut infield with a slalom run at high speed, evading three challenges with consummate ease, embellished by a clinical finish.

On the other flank, Solly March has been transformed under De Zerbi into a potent finisher, with his left-foot flourishes converting inviting crosses from Paraguayan prospect Julio Enciso.

That’s 10 goals and five assists in March’s last 19 league starts. Mitoma? He has 11 goals and 10 assists in 43 appearances after setting up Ecuadorian left-back Pervis Estupinan to double the lead straight after half-time.

With Mitoma causing havoc, Brighton became the most-watched football team in Japan in the second half of last season.

De Zerbi has told his players they should be averaging 20 to 30 shots per game, a philosophical observation encouraging them to chance their arm more often. They had 27 shots against Luton, 16 at Wolves.

Roberto De Zerbi will also have European competition to contend with this season (Bradley Collyer/PA Images via Getty Images)

The flip side of De Zerbi’s captivating version of Brighton is that they are more vulnerable to conceding goals. There have only been nine clean sheets across his tenure.

A 10th eluded them at Wolves in soft fashion at a corner, a far-post header by substitute Hwang Hee-chan bouncing into the opposite side of Jason Steele’s net.

The pattern of leaking goals is likely to continue following the £115million ($146m) sale of Moises Caicedo to Chelsea. The most significant of the Ecuadorian midfielder’s multiple attributes is his defensive work, breaking up opposition raids.

That’s why De Zerbi wants a signing with similar characteristics to Caicedo before the window shuts.

He is wary his team could be more exposed on the counter-attack. Alexis Mac Allister, Caicedo’s accomplice last season, has gone too, to Liverpool, but the big picture won’t change.

“We are going to improve our style,” De Zerbi says. “I can’t change, because our idea reflects my character, my history, my DNA. I can’t play in another way.”

What could change is Brighton’s goalscoring trajectory increasing further. Record signing Joao Pedro, bought from Watford for £30million, started on the bench at Wolves with Simon Adingra, who will be an alternative to Mitoma and March after a profitable season on loan with Union Saint-Gilloise.

The three changes De Zerbi made to the starting line-up were an indication of the rotation that will be commonplace to cater for the Europa League, as well as demonstrating the greater depth of the squad.

There have been six scorers already this season, including Joao Pedro and Adingra against Luton. It’s no wonder the inclusion of Brighton players in Fantasy Premier League teams has gone up by more than 300 per cent.

De Zerbi’s side created 116 big chances last season, behind only Liverpool (125) and Manchester City (132). A conversion rate of 40.52 per cent ranked them 12th.

Take more of those opportunities and who knows what lies in store for De Zerbi’s entertainers? Strap in for the ride. It’s going to be fun finding out.

(Top photo: Gustavo Pantano/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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