Roberto De Zerbi sees a big future at Brighton for ‘crucial' Kaoru Mitoma

Brighton boss De Zerbi is determined to extend the services of Japan international Kaoru Mitoma (John Walton/PA)
Rachel Steinberg, PA

Roberto De Zerbi  is committed to keeping Kaoru Mitoma at Brighton, amidst speculation that the Japan international could spark interest elsewhere.

Mitoma has had an outstanding campaign so far for the Seagulls, scoring eight goals in 25 appearances across all competitions. He has also claimed five assists.

The 25-year-old signed a four-year contract with Albion in August 2021 before spending a season on loan with Belgian top-flight side Union Saint-Gilloise but his boss hopes Mitoma will remain at the Amex Stadium much longer.

“Mitoma is a crucial part of the team for us, because in one-v-one, in the last 25 metres, in terms of goals, he is one of the most important players,” said De Zerbi.

“I think I have to repeat the same idea, the same opinion I used with [Moises] Caicedo. I think for him it is the first year in the Premier League and it’s important for him, for us for sure, but also for him to play another season with us.”

De Zerbi has in recent months secured the services of several key personnel.

Earlier this month, Caicedo agreed a new deal with Brighton which commits him to the club until 2027, with the option for an extra year. In October, Argentina World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister agreed to remain with Albion until June 2025, with a similar 12-month option.

On Monday, the club announced midfielder Adam Lallana had also extended
his stay at the Amex Stadium until the summer of 2024.

Although the 34-year-old looks set to sit out the rest of the season with a hamstring injury sustained in January, De Zerbi felt it was vital to seal Lallana’s future with the club.

“It is an honour to coach him,” said De Zerbi. “It’s an honour for the other players to play with Adam, and for the club to have him in our team. One player so good, so important, with so much experience.

“He’s a positive guy, he’s a very important player for us, for now. Unlucky, his injury, but the next year will be important for us. I don’t know if he will be able to play (again) this season…for the importance inside of the team we (have) lost an important player, because Adam is unique on the pitch.

“His quality is different than the other players in our squad, but we can play in another way.”

Brighton next host rivals Crystal Palace in a match rescheduled following postponements due to train strikes and the Queen’s death in September.

Their last encounter, just over a month ago at Selhurst Park, was not without controversy after the visitors had a goal disallowed following a VAR review.

However, refereeing body PGMOL later determined the line had been drawn from the wrong player and apologised to Brighton for the ‘significant error’ in what was ultimately a 1-1 draw.

Palace have not registered a shot on target in three consecutive matches, while the seventh-placed Seagulls’ 45 Premier League goals are the fifth highest in the English top flight.

Brighton and Palace drew 1-1 in the reverse fixture at Selhurst Park
Brighton and Palace drew 1-1 in the reverse fixture at Selhurst Park (Yui Mok/PA)

Nevertheless De Zerbi, whose side drew 2-2 at relegation-threatened Leeds last time out, refused to under-estimate the south Londoners.

He added: “We are ready to play. We want to win…and to reach Liverpool on 42 points, but we know the difficulty of the game, we respect Palace.

“I hope we start the game with the frustration of Saturday, because in the dressing room after the game we were disappointed but frustrated too.”