Understanding Roberto de Zerbi: Tactics, ideas and ‘culture wars’ in Italy

By | September 30, 2022

Roberto de Zerbi will make his Premier League and Brighton bow against Liverpool this weekend – but what should fans expect from the maverick Italian? We consulted the expert eye of James Horncastle to get the lowdown on the man who caused 'culture wars' back in Serie A with his style of play…

Listen to The Athletic Football Tactics Podcast for free every week…

Subscribe to The Athletic UK channel 👉 | 🔔Make sure to enable all push notifications!🔔

The Athletic is currently offering a special price subscription of £1/$1 a month for the first six months. To redeem that limited-time-only offer go to 👉

00:00 De Zerbi's tactics
9:21 De Zerbi's ideas

Follow The Athletic UK:
Website 👉
Twitter 👉
Instagram 👉
Facebook 👉

Follow Tifo Football:
Website 👉
Twitter 👉
Facebook 👉
Instagram 👉
Subscribe to Tifo Football 👉

#dezerbi #brighton #theathletic

But you know as you know Leonardo DiCaprio's has an Inception you know the Most powerful thing in in the world is That is an idea and deserve these ideas Are in in some respects You have more important more influential Than a trophy that has been won by a Team that's played in such a way that's Kind of forgettable Has he shown with this you know let's Touch on these principles Um tactical principles in possession uh Particularly playing out from the back With the goalkeeper and the center-backs I mean from what I've seen Does Abby has been on the extreme end of That as that has become you know a very Popular way of building up among the Elite clubs in Europe has that always Been the case even when he was in the Lower leagues has he become more Dogmatic as time has gone on or even Adaptable and and not you know those are The clips that we're going to see on Social media that do the rounds because When they play through it looks amazing But easy dogmatic on that front or is he What you might call pragmatic or more Adaptable I think one of the things that Brighton Wanted to establish is Is he adaptable Um because Potter was you know Potter Would a just his game plan depending on

How the opponent plays and Look you know does Ed be when it comes To his build up you know they will build Up with two center-backs and four so two Plus four two center backs with the full Backs and two Midfield players if They're playing against a team that has A lone Striker They'll they'll build up with a three And uh kind of a deep line playmaker if They're coming up against two Strikers I kind of think what Brighton wanted to Established is he going to go long If if needed Um I would say it's not going to go along If needed he's going to double down he Will he will look to play through Because he believes that inviting teams On to you Um and playing through them gives you Advantages it gives you the possibility To have numerical superiority Further up the pitch And you know he wants his team to not Give the ball away even when they're Numerically at a disadvantage So if it's uh 1v2 or a 2v3 he still Wants them to try and play through that Um and not give the ball away yeah that Was one of his principles that he put in His His thesis when he was studying for his Pro license uh cover Channel

You know three things he wants the ball As much as possible he never wants his Players uh to get rid of it playing the Opposition half as much as you can and When when the ball back as fast as you Can there's nothing kind of Revolutionary about that these are Things we kind of hear that almost every Manager aspiring manager wants to do These days but you know I I think it's Really interesting when you look at the The data and I think Liam can get into This is that Over his kind of spell at sasolo His team had more touches in their own Penalty area progressively every year And that is a trend you usually see in Teams that are down the bottom of the Table Um because their opponents come onto Them they force them back and they're Having to play in their own penalty area But it was a choice from this area it Wasn't something they were forced into And Um like you know I I'm really interested To see how Sanchez Um you know is able to do what Andrea Concili did the goalkeeper I mean no one Thought that Andrea conciliated as well A goalkeeper was going to become this Kind of I wouldn't say it was a playmaker Goalkeeper a goalkeeper sweeper but

Certainly he was asked to kind of read The game in such a way that he would They would there would never be a big Gap between him and his center-backs and If that meant that the defensive line Was very high then he was often standing Outside of his box Uh that he was he was willing to play With courage with his feet that you know And read the play as well Um so I'm interested to see what Sanchez Does there and also the center-backs Because I mean again John Marco Ferrari you know Not someone you you you will be known to All of our listeners but you know Principal center-back it's a swallow They asked to Want the ball at his feet Um Be quick about moving into Open Spaces Um you know which which doesn't mean Sort of defend defending Wide Open Spaces but when you've got the ball Carry the ball into them and and play Out so I'm interested to see how dunk And Webster Um Deal with that because I think um you Know that as much as those guys play With the ball quite a lot already it's Gonna be it's gonna be a more extreme Version I think of what they've they've Been used to well at least they haven't

Been you know a million miles away from It in in the last few seasons on the Potter I I mean as you talked about them Having more touches inside their own box Year on year I I I suspect a reason for That might have been Teams you know denying or trying Desperately not to press them too high Because they they know that that would Be after a while you know that's just The Trap that they want you to fall into And and so maybe having to be even more Patient with it uh in order to to draw Them on to them I mean it would be Fascinating to see how West Ham United For example who have no interest in Pressing at the very top of the pitch it Will be interesting to see how they Respond to Um to a deservey bright inside when they Uh take each other on Um out of possession is there anything Particularly uh specific at specific Patterns that we might see from deserves Brighton Just win the back ball back as soon as Possible and uh and when you're when You're trying to do that Um take your cues from what the Intention of the opponent is which is if The opponent is is looking to Bear down And go and score do everything to Disrupt and slow him down stop him Um if the opponent is looking to

Consolidate possession Um then it in that scenario look to Regroup get organized and back into Shape Um so Yeah that's yeah that's more or less the The philosophy but in in Italy they they Talk they talk a lot about Limas And that is it's it's it's it's it's It's when you're on the attack and when You're in the opposition half That you're set up in such a way that if You lose the ball You are already well positioned to win The ball back defend and he is he was Setting fullbacks inverted quite early On wasn't he which has become you know Uh you know uh common practice and and Part of the reasoning for that is Basically to defend in transition uh a Little easier yeah so he's he's obsessed With with that getting that absolutely Right Um and you know again in terms of Influence with Bielsen pep you know they believe that Attacking is the best form of Defense Because if you're high up the pitch You're further away from your own goal Um you know again yeah nothing Particularly uh extraordinary Um but Um but yeah he's he's very much off cut From that cloth rather than

Yeah I mean it drives it drives old School Italian managers mad Um those who are now in the TV studio is As pundits because More often not they're there to analyze When it goes wrong rather than it rather Than it goes right and they say why Aren't you hoofing it Roberto white You're kicking it into the stands what Are you doing Um and you know he just yeah he believes That this is This is the best way for your team to to Gain an advantage um so and I think the Last point on this His whole Ethos is he believes it's it's it's a Holistic way of playing in that if you Play out from the back It means you have to be technically good Enough to play out from the back so We're going to work with you to improve Your Technique and that's going to make You a better player If you play out from the back it means You're taking responsibility because You're taking a risk and you have to Accept that risk and accept that Responsibility so that's going to make You More of a leader more well-rounded as a Person not only as a player Um and If you succeed doing this and play out

Play out from the back cut through a Team You're gonna feel really good about it It's going to build your confidence it's Going to build your self-esteem Um and overall it's a net positive Um because you know you're becoming a Better player you're becoming a better Character and you're winning so yeah That's why he thoroughly believes in What he does I was going to ask lastly Before we turn our attention to the Brighton Squad and and what he'll be met With uh or what he has been met with as He takes his first few steps there With the the style of the approach the Principles You've spoken a lot about why why he Does it and his his strong beliefs it is The right way to play to win football Matches is there um Aesthetic aspect to this as well is There any anything to do with the Romance of football and and playing in a Certain way for the fans or Aesthetically or is deservey ultimately You know is this about function is this About winning football matches Yeah I mean he doesn't like uh to be Kind of characterized as a philosopher As a purist Um But you know he believes that Um in this this kind of holistic

Approach which if you take it Beyond The Players if you're playing a style of Football which is technical which is Skill based which is attacking Um The fact the players won't just enjoy Playing it the fans will enjoy watching It and it will create a really good Environment Um that that in itself should help build Momentum and become self-fulfilling in Delivering wins and maybe trophies Um but you know he is Yeah I mentioned how polarizing his football Is in Italy um because You know we had a cultural kind of start In in his second season it coincided With massimiano allegri's last season at Juventus and you know there was a A former player who's kind of the Closest equivalent to Gary Neville on Sky Italian And adani is is very Kind of protested he believes that Because it's in step with modern Football Trends this is the route that Italian football needs to follow in Order to progress and evolve Um and And so he talks about you know South American influences and how Important they are and how important is To look at PLS and pep for our reference

Points not the Italian coaches of the Past and I think this has led to this Kind of uh perception of disabius being Presumptuous and that's robbed some People the wrong way you know they say What's this guy ever won you know he's Only coached small teams apart from you Know when obviously when he got the Offer to go to shakhtar Um why does he have this profile uh it Feels disproportionate but you know as You know Leonardo DiCaprio's has an Inception you know the most powerful Thing in in the world is an idea and Deserve these ideas uh in in some Respects You have more important more influential Than a trophy that has been won by a Team that's played in such a way that's Kind of forgettable Um so Um but you know I mean he spends time With with pet we've seen that Um you know when he was Starting out as coaching career he would Yeah he made the journey up to the Dolomites we're buying work in prison Training camp so he could watch Pets buy And train learn from it he was recently At the city football campus with some Members of his staff Um he's yeah I mean I think it's quite Interesting that he's since leaving Shekhtar he's looked to refresh his

Staff modernize update Um so he's he's in Step uh oh he sees You know he brought people in who feels That can keep him current can Kind of reinforce his ideas Um but uh but yeah yeah I mean Fundamentally there is an aesthetic to It and I think We have seen with you know Mancini's Italy and the success that they had Which is Italy winning in a way that They've never never won before and and Because they've never won playing that Way before before manchini did it people Thought Italy can't win that way and so To see Italy win that way it kind of Validates deservey's ideas and says that You know you know maybe there is maybe We should be getting behind this guy Because you know he is proposing a style Of football that could be successful uh For Italy so Um so yeah it's it's is it you know he's A fascinating figure really