By PA Sport Staff
Roberto De Zerbi believes Brighton are “lucky” to have teenage striker Evan Ferguson amid reported interest from a host of rival Premier League clubs.
Ferguson has enjoyed a fine breakthrough season at the Amex Stadium and registered his first goal for the Republic of Ireland during the international break.
The impressive form of the 18-year-old, who has scored seven times for the Seagulls this season and has a contract until 2026, has led to him being linked with the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea.
De Zerbi is enjoying working with Ferguson and feels the former Bohemians player has significant room for further development.
“I think he’s playing very well,” the Albion boss told a press conference ahead of Saturday’s top-flight clash with Brentford.
“I told you a lot of times, I am happy with Evan, for his age, for his performances, but I think in my head my focus is on his improvement because he can and he has to improve.
“But he’s a good guy. He learns in a good direction and a good way and it’s lucky for us to have a player like Evan.”
Ferguson’s goals have helped fire Brighton to an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, while the club continue to push for European qualification in the league.
The Wembley appointment with Erik ten Hag’s side is one of seven matches during an intense April for the Seagulls.
De Zerbi revealed on Friday that winger Jeremy Sarmiento could miss up to two months with a fractured metatarsal sustained on international duty with Ecuador.
While midfielder Adam Lallana is also sidelined and right-back Tariq Lamptey is working his way back from a knee issue, the Italian is confident his squad has sufficient depth to deal with the hectic fixture list.
“In the last part of the season every game can change your future and can decide the season and we are ready to play our best,” said De Zerbi.
“I’m sure we have resources to play seven games in a row in one month.”
Eighth-placed Brentford travel to the south coast below Brighton only on goal difference, albeit having played two games more.
The Bees’ strong season has been underpinned by 16 league goals from Ivan Toney, which led to an England debut for the striker last weekend.
De Zerbi is wary of the threats posed by a player who scored twice when Thomas Frank’s side defeated Albion 2-0 in October but has backed his centre-backs to come out on top on this occasion.
“He’s a top player,” he said of Toney.
“He’s playing like a top player this year. I didn’t know him (before I came to England) but he’s a complete player, fantastic player.
“I think we have defenders who are very strong and they are able to defend also with Toney.”