Roberto De Zerbi will return to Italy with his Brighton to face a newly rejuvenated Roma under World Cup winner Daniele De Rossi in their Europa League Round of 16 tie.

The Giallorossi booked their spot in the knockout stages of the Europa League after holding their nerves against Feyenoord in a penalty shootout after a tense two-legged affair that ended 2-2 on aggregate.

The victory was the fifth in seven games under new head coach De Rossi, who was the unexpected successor to Jose Mourinho following his ousting last month.

The former midfielder didn’t impress during his only other coaching job at SPAL in Serie B, but he has instantly turned things around at his old stomping ground.

De Zerbi’s Brighton will be feeling confident ahead of their Europa League Round of 16 tie with Roma, but there’s three key reasons why the Seagulls and their fans cannot underestimate De Rossi’s squad.

1 – Brighton in the city of gladiators

One of the most feared aspects of a team changing head coaches in the middle of the season is the dreaded ‘new manager bounce’, when a team’s form immediately improves after the move. Whilst this is usually a flash in the pan, things are starting to look a little different under De Rossi.

The 40-year-old Italian coach has won five of his seven matches in charge so far – beating Hellas Verona, Salernitana, Cagliari, Frosinone and then Feyenoord on penalties. The one draw was the 1-1 with the Dutch side in the first leg and the loss was a fiery 4-2 defeat to Serie A leaders Inter.

Roma have scored 19 goals across De Rossi’s seven matches and seem to have fully rediscovered the fighting spirit that had clearly dissipated under his predecessor Mourinho. The team have started to resemble the side that almost won the Europa League and are now dreaming of going one step further.

This combination of factors sets up a deadly cocktail for De Zerbi and Roma; not only are Roma in high spirits under the guidance of a club legend, they are also hungry to resolve unfinished business on the European stage this season.

2 – Roma under the light of stars

There are two key figures in this Roma squad, Paulo Dybala and Romelu Lukaku. The former was an immediate fan favourite upon his arrival on a free transfer two years ago and he’s been an important figure in this new era, scoring 27 goals and providing 14 assists across his 62 matches so far.

For Lukaku, the odds were initially stacked against him; not many fans were quick to put aside their biases regarding the striker, considering his Inter history and recent behaviour post-Chelsea transfer, but the Belgian has won them over in the best way he knows how – goals.

The 30-year-old, who is set to return to Chelsea in the summer as his loan deal contains no buy option, has scored 16 goals across 32 matches this season, netting six in eight in the Europa League. He has only missed one game so far this term, due to a red card in a draw with Fiorentina.

De Zerbi and Brighton will need to find a way to fully shut down Dybala and Lukaku if they want to progress to the quarterfinals, as the star duo won’t make it easy for the Premier League side.

3 – De Zerbi and the mirror of reflection

The final thing De Zerbi and Brighton can’t afford to forget ahead of their Europa League Round of 16 tie with Roma is their need to avoid a wrong set-up, as recent history has shown that some teams can truly shoot down the Seagulls should things align properly.

In the last 18 months, three teams have figured out the solution to De Zerbi’s system at Brighton and secured impressive results, with the most recent being Premier League minnows Luton Town in their meeting at the end of last month, where they picked up an incredible 4-0 win.

Another recent time that things quickly unravelled on the pitch was back in September of last year, when Unai Emery’s Aston Villa flew to a thrilling 6-1 thrashing over the Seagulls. At the tail end of last season, Brighton also suffered a miserable 5-1 collapse at home to Everton.

One common thread across these three defeats was that Brighton actually didn’t play too badly, mostly controlling the ball and having a number of good chances across these games. Despite that, they fell in dramatic circumstances, something they need to avoid with Roma ready to pounce.

Words: @ApolloHeyes

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