Brighton 2-3 AEK Athens: ‘We must be smarter’ – De Zerbi aims for another ‘upgrade’

Roberto De Zerbi is shown a yellow card in his side's match with AEK Athens
Roberto De Zerbi was shown a yellow card in the second half of Brighton’s loss to AEK Athens

Brighton manager Roberto de Zerbi congratulated his players even though their European debut fell flat but warned them they must be “smarter” to avoid a repeat of their 3-2 home defeat by Greek outfit AEK Athens.

So unlikely was the prospect of the side currently sixth in the Greek Super League being victorious at the Amex that coach Matias Almeyda reported a couple of journalists had laughed when he said in the build-up to the game AEK “were coming here to win”.

Almeyda noted the pair were not in his audience after the game as AEK inflicted Brighton’s second loss of the season, just five days after De Zerbi’s side had gone to Old Trafford and taken apart Manchester United.

“I congratulated the players afterwards,” said De Zerbi. “I can’t be happy when we win at Old Trafford and sad today because we lost if the performances were both good.

“But if we want to make another upgrade, we have to know the situation where we concede goals.

“We knew before the game, AEK have two situations where they can score, set pieces and counter attack.”

Former Everton defender Djibril Sidibie and Mijat Gacinovic scored the visitors’ first two goals from set pieces and substitute Ezequiel Ponce got the winner on the counter attack six minutes from the end of normal time, though there was then an additional 13 minutes played..

“We have to be more focussed, with the right attitude and more smart to defend the set pieces,” said De Zerbi.

Brighton badly missed the influence of skipper Lewis Dunk, who reported a muscular problem in the aftermath of the Manchester United victory.

De Zerbi also confirmed striker Evan Ferguson had been sent home because of illness.

Joao Pedro equalised twice, on both occasions from the penalty spot, but De Zerbi felt the Brazilian should have done better with a third opportunity that would have put the hosts ahead, instead firing against the goalkeeper.

With a trip to Marseille to come in a fortnight before back-to-back encounters with Ajax, Brighton have some work to do in order to get their qualification hopes back on track.

“I am sad for result and sad because we couldn’t make our fans, ourselves and the club happy. But the performance was good,” De Zerbi added.

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