De Zerbi maintains Midas touch as the Brighton success story continues | Brighton & Hove Albion

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De Zerbi maintains Midas touch as the Brighton success story continues | Brighton & Hove Albion

Brighton & Hove Albion

After working his magic on Mykhailo Mudryk, Julio Enciso looks like being the Italian’s next exciting protege

Shortly after the final whistle had blown at Stamford Bridge on Saturday there came a touching gesture from Roberto De Zerbi. Having finished celebrating Brighton’s deserved victory against Chelsea with his coaching staff, he wandered over to a despondent looking Mykhailo Mudryk and, in the late afternoon sun, embraced the Ukrainian.

Warm words were exchanged too and, all in all, it appeared a lovely moment between two men who spent 16 months working together at Shakhtar Donetsk. It may also have been what Mudryk needed after another game in which he looked way off being an £89m winger. After all, it was under De Zerbi’s guidance that Mudryk’s career ignited at Shakhtar, the Italian’s brilliance as a coach unlocking the 22-year-old’s stunning talents, and in that reunion may have come the very encouragement that leads to him repeating the feat in London.

Who knows, but what’s for sure is that for all his current struggles, Mudryk embodies De Zerbi’s ability to get the best out of young talent. It should, and no doubt does, excite everyone at Brighton, and especially in regards to Julio Enciso, the 19‑year‑old Paraguay forward whose rocket of a shot secured the three points for the visitors at the weekend. It was a breathtaking strike that capped an excellent display by the player on his 11th league appearance following a £9.5m summer move from the Asunción club Libertad. They have all come as a substitute, highlighting Brighton’s ability to not only unearth gems but oversee their progress in a patient manner.

In regards to Enciso specifically, De Zerbi has clearly put a lot of thought into his development, using the teenager as a substitute in the league and the FA Cup while starting him in the Carabao Cup, and after his latest and most eye‑catching appearance for the club came a demand from De Zerbi to not only keep developing but to do so better. “Enciso is improving but he can improve more,” the manager said. “He finished playing after his goal and I don’t want to see this. He has to think first of the team and then himself. If he wants to become a great player he has to improve in mentality.”

A harsh assessment in the circumstances perhaps but, as De Zerbi went on to say, he did the “same work with Mudryk” and that turned out pretty well. And ultimately this is what the 43‑year‑old does: relentlessly and unsparingly demand the best from his players, something Brighton’s captain, Lewis Dunk, believes has been key to their excellent form since De Zerbi arrived on the south coast in September.

“Under this manager we work hard on the training pitch every day and everyone knows the details,” the centre‑back said. “I even know the details of positions I don’t need to know because I don’t play in those positions.

“That’s the way we work and the way we play, which is also to dominate games. Since this manager’s been here I don’t think there’s been many games we haven’t dominated.”

Roberto De Zerbi speaks to the Chelsea winger Mykhailo Mudryk, whom he coached at Shakhtar Donetsk, after Brighton’s win on Saturday. Photograph: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images

Brighton certainly dominated on Saturday. They had 26 shots on goal, which is the most Chelsea have ever faced in a Premier League home game. Quite simply the visitors were brilliant, in and out of possession, and what made their triumph especially impressive was that it came in the face of adversity, namely going behind to Conor Gallagher’s 13th-minute goal and losing Joël Veltman and Evan Ferguson to serious injury.

In tribute to their defeat to Tottenham the previous week, they were also denied a penalty after Christian Pulisic’s handball on 21 minutes, but there was no panic or loss of composure, and it says much for Brighton’s depth as well as character and collective talent that it was two substitutes who scored their goals, with Danny Welbeck getting them back on level terms before Enciso stole the show.

Brighton continue to soar and no doubt look forward to Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United with great anticipation. Chelsea, in contrast, must be dreading the Champions League visit from Real Madrid on Tuesday.

They remain a mess, lacking any sense of strategy or commitment to the cause. Frank Lampard insists that is largely down to tiredness and an absence of confidence, which may be true, but it’s also true that Todd Boehly’s decision to bring Lampard back to the club on an interim basis was a mistake. It’s now three successive defeats for someone who, quite clearly, is not a very good manager, which was brutally exposed at the weekend by someone who, quite clearly, is.

Indeed Chelsea could do much worse than target De Zerbi in the summer. Mudryk, for one, would no doubt approve.

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