Roberto De Zerbi insists Brighton deserve to qualify for European football next season as a result of their efforts over the current campaign.
The Seagulls will head into Sunday’s Premier League clash with relegated Southampton at the Amex Stadium knowing two wins from their final three games – they host champions elect Manchester City next Wednesday before bringing the curtain down with a testing final-day trip to Aston Villa – would secure a Europa League berth.
It would be a first qualification for continental football for the south coast outfit and De Zerbi wants his players to write themselves into the club’s history.
Asked if he would regard this season as a success whatever happens over the next week or so, the Italian said: “Good question, but I prefer to answer you at the end of the season.
“I am really proud for this season, but we want to write our own history of our club for our fans, for ourselves.
“I think we deserve to qualify for the Europa League. We won against Chelsea two times, we won against Manchester United two times, we won at Arsenal’s stadium, beat Liverpool and I think we are deserving to qualify for Europe.
“It is very difficult. The games are not one per week, they are very close, but we have to adapt, to react with motivation, with energy, with the head.”
The Italian coach is in no doubt where achieving European football with Brighton’s resources would rank.
“It can be one of the most important targets, not only for me but for the players,” De Zerbi told a press conference.
“To qualify in the Europa League with Brighton is more important than winning the Premier League with a big, big team.
"I'm really focussed on our target. It can be one of the most important targets for us.
— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) May 20, 2023
“I have told this also to my players who have the possibility to play in the big teams (in the future). For us, it is a historic target and we are living only for this.”
Brighton headed into the weekend sixth in the table, a point clear of Tottenham and Aston Villa with a game in hand on both.
Their outside hopes of threatening the top four were dealt a blow on Thursday evening when they were beaten 4-1 at Newcastle, who cemented themselves in third place as a result.
It was a second defeat in three games – they were surprisingly trounced 5-1 at home by Everton in between victories over Manchester United and Arsenal – but, with Levi Colwill expected to return to the squad after being rested on Tyneside and Alexis Mac Allister, Julio Enciso and Evan Ferguson having been used only as substitutes, De Zerbi is expecting a response.
He said: “I think it will another tough game, but the characteristics, the quality of Newcastle are different. We will play in our stadium with our fans and we are able to win.”
De Zerbi confirmed Dutch defender Joel Veltman has recovered from a hamstring injury so could be involved on Sunday.