There is a short list of opposition players who have scored a Premier League hat-trick at Liverpool’s famously stubborn Anfield Stadium. Leandro Trossard happens to be one of them.
A welcome gift for incoming boss Roberto De Zerbi, Trossard’s masterclass lit up the new manager’s first game in charge as Brighton held the Reds to a breathless
3-3 draw in early October.
Driven by momentum, he then found the net in subsequent games against Man City and notably Graham Potter’s Chelsea.
This term, the versatile Belgian has had more opposition defences on the ropes than some forwards manage across an entire season. He only needs one goal to equal Neal Maupay and Glenn Murray’s club record of 26 league goals for Brighton – not a titanic total, but significant nonetheless.
Trossard’s seven goals and three assists has helped to propel Brighton up the league table, beginning the weekend in sixth.
Predictably, his impressive form has alerted suitors beyond the south coast, with his current Brighton deal due to expire in six months’ time – an attractive prospect for clubs in the market for a winter window bargain.
His inclusion in Belgium’s World Cup squad may well strengthen that proposition further, with Qatar the perfect stage for any player wishing to demonstrate their potential value to interested parties.
Among the reported admirers are Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle. All have significant pull, and all possess far greater financial clout than the Seagulls.
None of those options, however, would place Trossard at the centre of their action plan. None could offer the promise of a title role. None, you could argue, would allow the former Genk star to flourish quite in the same way he is now.
“He is playing at 80% of his potential,” De Zerbi said of Trossard to Albion TV recently. “I think he has more quality.” That is despite the forward operating at a productivity level far greater than any of his prior seasons in the Premier League.
After a challenging start to the De Zerbi era, which included away trips to Liverpool and Man City, as well as hosting Tottenham, a tweak to his starting XI for their last two games – and less emphasis on packing the midfield – has seen Brighton record impressive wins at home to Chelsea (ending their unbeaten start under Potter) and away to Wolves.
Trossard’s influence was instrumental, acting as Brighton’s chief driving force. In both games the 27-year-old was Brighton’s most advanced player, deployed in a position far more central than the areas he had been occupying previously (wide left).
He was able to choreograph passages of play by feeding off the energy of Solly March and Kaoru Mitoma in the flanks, creating an overload that eventually smothered Potter’s error-strewn Chelsea and exposed Julen Lopetegui’s bewildered Wolves.
His incessant press set the tone in both encounters; liberated by his directive to vacate the left channel and roam more freely.
To illustrate, against Chelsea he nearly profited from Thiago Silva’s poorly-executed pass before lifting the ball over Kepa, only for Silva to head desperately off the line. Then, with only five minutes on the clock, he had found the net, showing immense composure to round Kepa before beating Trevoh Chalobah and former teammate Marc Cucurella on the goal line – a strike teeming with a vengeance.
His trademark glasses celebration followed as he bathed in the adulation from the Amex crowd, who were rightly revelling in the forward’s success against a manager who supposedly left Brighton for bigger and better things.
Against Wolves, De Zerbi’s side again took the game to their opponents. They were ahead within 10 minutes when Mitoma punched the ball into Trossard’s feet and his clever first-time touch cushioned it towards Adam Lallana, who finished exquisitely.
When Brighton start well it’s often because Trossard has got them playing fearlessly on the front foot. The south coast side have scored a league-high six goals in the opening 15 minutes of games this season.
Drawing comparisons between De Zerbi and Potter is interesting, not least because the current Seagulls boss appears to be getting marginally more out of this plucky Brighton team than his predecessor, albeit in a limited timeframe.
Looking at De Zerbi’s first seven games compared with Potter’s final seven; they keep the ball for longer, play in the opposition half more regularly and register more shots on target, all while remaining tactically reactive and flexible. Even more impressive when you consider four of their seven outings under the Italian have been against last season’s top six.
Safe to say, no Brighton fan is pining after the past regime.
Trossard himself is enjoying uplift too, more than doubling his goal involvement per 90 minutes, averaging 0.74. His 182 sprints are more than any Brighton colleague, which speaks volumes about his desire to lead from the front, while he ranks third in the league for goals scored from open play (seven).
“I like the player, he makes things happen,” Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson commented recently.
Brighton have the most wins (six), points (21) and goals scored after 13 games in their top division history and you wouldn’t bet against those statistics improving further when they face Aston Villa, live on Sky Sports, this weekend.
Unai Emery, embarking on his second game as Villa boss, will be hoping Trossard and co are in a more forgiving mood on Sunday, particularly after another buoyant display in the Carabao Cup midweek.
Brighton ended Arsenal’s 12-match winning run at the Emirates – doing so for the second time in recent memory (they were coincidentally the last team to come away from north London with victory).
Yet the Seagulls have not won three consecutive league games since October 2018 under Chris Hughton. This, then, is the perfect opportunity for De Zerbi to demonstrate he means business by achieving a feat that Potter never could.
Not only would that stamp considerable authority on his reign, it would put Brighton firmly in the bracket of ‘teams to watch’.
Indeed, top six hopefuls may well be minded to keep tabs on more than just the tale of Trossard as 2022-23 continues to meander in unpredictable directions. Brighton could be the real deal yet.
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