By Ed Elliot, PA
Roberto De Zerbi wants to rewrite the history books with Brighton as he seeks to keep the club on course for a first major trophy with victory over Manchester United in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final.
Albion’s only previous FA Cup final appearance was a 2-2 draw followed by a 4-0 replay defeat to United in 1983 at the end of a season which included relegation from the top flight.
The Seagulls were staring into the abyss just 14 years later, sitting bottom of the Football League, without a home ground and in danger of going out of business.
De Zerbi has only once before visited Wembley and hopes one of the biggest games of his managerial career is memorable for Brighton supporters, many of whom have endured a roller-coaster ride.
“We would like to try to change the history,” said the Albion boss, who watched from the stands at the national stadium last summer when his native Italy lost 3-0 to Argentina in the Finalissima.
“I think the fans have to be proud for this squad, these players because they are different than other players, other teams. They feel the importance for the people, for our fans and they are playing for us.
“I can give them my passion, my vision of work, not more because I’m not a player. But for sure we would like to make our fans happy.
“I’m looking forward to playing this game. For sure, (it’s) one of the most important.”
Brighton, who defeated Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Stoke and Grimsby en route to Wembley, previously reached an FA Cup semi-final under Chris Hughton in 2019.
That tie ended in a meek 1-0 loss to eventual winners Manchester City before the club scraped Premier League survival by just two points.
Fast-forward four years and Albion are a far tougher proposition as they chase European qualification via the league, in conjunction with their quest to end the wait to lift significant silverware.
De Zerbi is confident of success against Erik ten Hag’s side to set up a showdown with either Pep Guardiola’s City or Sheffield United and welcomes the tension associated with high-stakes matches.
“You can think I am arrogant – because I am not arrogant – but I think we are able to win the game because I believe in my players,” he said. “I know their quality.
“I know very well the quality of the Man United players and I respect them. It will be a very tough game for us, but for them too.
“I think they (Brighton’s players) love the pressure because when do you have the pressure? When you play the very important games. Pressure is a good thing in football.
“It’s not a problem and we have to adapt and we have to love the competition and these games in terms of importance, in terms of pressure.”
De Zerbi will make late fitness calls before selecting his match-day squad.
Defender Joel Veltman and striker Evan Ferguson limped off during last weekend’s 2-1 win over Chelsea, while goalkeeper Jason Steele sat out that game with a minor issue.
De Zerbi previously confirmed back-up keeper Robert Sanchez, who lost his place to Steele at the beginning of last month but played at Stamford Bridge, will start against United.
The Italian praised the Spain international’s response to being dropped and his desire to become better at playing out from the back with his feet.
“Robert showed he is improving because in Stamford Bridge he played very well, better than in the last period,” said De Zerbi.
“I think my request is not so difficult. I don’t want to take a risk, but I want to play with the ball always in every situation, with every result, in every stadium, with every opponent.
“I think he understood my idea, my vision, what I want on the pitch. He answered in the right way, working harder than the past and he’s improving for it.”