'Big mistake' – Roberto De Zerbi's brilliant response to Brighton's chances of winning the Europa League

Brighton head coach Roberto De Zerbi believes a first European tie can help give the club an “upgrade” – but warned it must not change their DNA.
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The Seagulls host AEK Athens on Thursday night for their opening Europa League Group B fixture, with dates against Ajax and Marseille also on the horizon.

Tackling some of Europe’s best sides would have seemed like a distance pipedream back when the club’s very existence was under threat in the late 1990s, with the Goldstone Ground sold to pay off debts before Brighton endured spells playing at Gillingham and then Withdean.

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The Amex Stadium, though, will be packed in expectation of what De Zerbi’s well-drilled team can go on to achieve – having won 3-1 at Manchester United to record a fourth win from the opening five Premier League games.

Roberto De Zerbi, Manager of Brighton & Hove Albion, is all set for Europa League footballRoberto De Zerbi, Manager of Brighton & Hove Albion, is all set for Europa League football
Roberto De Zerbi, Manager of Brighton & Hove Albion, is all set for Europa League football

Brighton have been installed as second favourites for the Europa League behind Liverpool.

But De Zerbi remains determined to keep a sense of perspective. “We are improving, but we are not a big, big team yet – but we are a good team,” the Brighton boss said.

“We believe in ourselves and the quality of the players, the level of the club, the quality of the play – but we are Brighton, we know our level.

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“We have the ambition to become better and better, step by step in every competition and in every game.”

De Zerbi told a press conference: “The way how we will play and can compete (in the Europa League) can give us an upgrade – but when I am speaking about, ‘we are Brighton’ it is because we cannot forget where we have started and who we were.

“We cannot lose our DNA – because if we think, ‘we are better’, then we make a big mistake.”

On-loan Barcelona forward Ansu Fati came off the bench against United and could be in contention to start. Left-back Pervis Estupinan and Argentina teenager Facundo Buonanotte are both expected be involved again after missing the trip to Old Trafford following busy international breaks. Striker Evan Ferguson has been managing a knee issue but is fit, while winger Solly March returns to the squad after his muscle issue. “Solly plays,” said De Zerbi.

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AEK were beaten in the Champions League play-off round by Antwerp, and De Zerbi is expecting a stern test from Matias Almeyda’s side.

“I have studied them a lot, they are a good team and very aggressive with the ball and without, so it will be a very tough game,” the Brighton boss said.

“Our group is one of the strongest, but for us it is better because we want to compete with the best teams.”

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