Brighton brought down the curtain on their best-ever season with a 2-1 defeat at Aston Villa on Sunday.
Although the Albion had nothing to play for, after securing their spot in next term’s Europa League thanks to a sixth-place finish, they still gave a good account of themselves, but the Villans just had too much for them at Villa Park.
Two goals in the opening 25 minutes from Jacob Ramsey and Ollie Watkins put the hosts in control and although Deniz Undav pulled a goal back before half-time, the Seagulls could not break down Unai Emery’s robust defence.
Eyes on next season already
After the defeat to Villa, De Zerbi made some pretty seismic announcements. Moises Caicedo and Alexis Mac Allister, who was in tears following the full-time whistle and gave an apparent goodbye to the travelling fans, may have played their last games for the club.
The Italian has admitted that his life revolves around football, he works tirelessly, striving for perfection and he likes to plan ahead. Minutes after the full-time whistle, the 43-year-old is already turning his attention to next season.
After the match, he mulled over his attacking options. For strikers, he has Evan Ferguson, Danny Welbeck, and Deniz Undav. He has the versatile Julio Enciso in his ranks, and Adam Lallana has a part to play going forward, as does new signing Joao Pedro.
While he will return to his home country soon, discussions will go on with owner Tony Bloom about how to bolster Brighton’s squad in the summer transfer window – and he will have to find himself something to do to keep him occupied before pre-season starts in July.
In terms of attackers we have to analyse the situation because Julio Enciso is not a winger. He can play there but he is not a real winger,” he told Sussex Live.
“Ferguson, Welbeck, Joao Pedro will play with us next year. Adam Lallana is still a crucial player for us and for me and we have to analyse the situation. I am happy with the performances of Undav. He is a good player, a good guy but at the moment we have not spoken about attackers.
“The season is finished and that is bad news for me because it is difficult without football. I will go back to Italy, my country. I will work with Tony and the club to improve the squad, to prepare for the new season. This season was fantastic and we have to try and repeat this next season.”
If there was one player who exemplified Villa’s never-say-die attitude against Brighton, it was John McGinn. The snarling and indefatigable midfielder never gave the visitors a moment’s peace. The Scottish international appears to have the heart of a lion and really embodies what this Villa team is about – a high-octane, physical, and unapologetic outfit.
The 28-year-old seemed to play at 100mph against the Seagulls and that intensity was shown when the ball was in play and for stoppages, too. In one instance in the second half, he refused to move out of the way quickly for Pervis Estupinan, who wanted to take a free-kick.
The former Hibernian man was mindful of the fact the Albion were 2-1 down and could wreck their chances of securing a Europa Conference League spot. He took his sweet time and Estupinan snapped, firing the ball into McGinn’s leg from close range. Referee David Coote, who was not a popular figure during the contest, booked the Scot, much to the chagrin of the Villa man.
He then furiously turned his rage towards the left-back, firing off some choice words for the 25-year-old, before throwing his arms up in the air in protest. While he was not best pleased with the Ecuadorian (and the refereeing performance of Coote, though he was not the only one), one man was thrilled to see him. Villa boss Unai Emery worked with him between 2020-22 and the pair struck up a good relationship.