The Brighton conveyor belt of talent continues to unearth gems, with players like 18-year-old striker Evan Ferguson, Japan star Kaoru Mitoma, midfielder Moises Caicedo and World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister often grabbing the headlines.
But since Roberto de Zerbi’s arrival as manager, there’s also been a significant upturn in performances across the squad, none more evident than in local lad Solly March.
Brighton started this Premier League season on a high, and despite losing their head coach, assistant head coach, first-team coach, goalkeeping coach, 2021-22 player of the season, head of recruitment and assistant head of recruitment to Chelsea in September, the Seagulls have still managed to surpass expectations.
In the aftermath of the west Londoners’ raid, a sense of calm remained at the seaside, thanks to the stability provided by Albion fan and owner, Tony Bloom. He’s proven on numerous occasions after key departures that a succession plan is always in place.
So, when the appointment of ex-Sassuolo supremo De Zerbi was announced, there was a buzz and intrigue to find out what he could bring, and whether he could kick the club on from the promising position Graham Potter left them in.
The Italian was an instant hit. While he failed to win any of his opening five games, his exuberant personality, risk and reward tactics on the pitch and unrelenting confidence that Brighton shouldn’t fear any team was a breath of fresh air.
That has rubbed off on the players and March has emerged as one of De Zerbi’s standout performers - even though penalty shoot outs have not been the strongest part of his game this season.
The 28-year-old wideman has spent his entire professional career at Albion, but he’s never looked happier or played with such consistent quality before. It’s his best ever scoring season, with all of his goals coming after the World Cup once he’d had more time to adapt to the incoming coach.
De Zerbi spotted the talent in March right from the get-go, describing him in a press conference as one of his “very big players”. March is equally as fond of his new gaffer, saying he’s the best he’s ever worked with.
As well as being given that vote of confidence from the manager, a major part of March’s rise has been his conversion to first choice right-winger.
Prior to De Zerbi’s arrival, March predominantly played as a left-wing-back – by deploying him further forward, he’s encouraged to get into the penalty area and shoot more, and it’s clearly getting the best out of him.
His recent success has seen Albion tie him down to a long-term contract that could keep him at the Amex until 2027. As Roberto’s revival gathers pace, the Seagulls look to make history and seal European qualification for the first time, and there’s no doubt March will have a huge role to play. Sussex-born Solly may have gone under the radar before, but this diamond in the rough is now shining bright.
Chuba is a Boro Boy
Whatever Michael Carrick has done to get Chuba Akpom firing has worked wonders. The forward is the top scorer in the Championship – and second on our list of the best EFL players 2023 – with all but four of his goals notched since the ex-Manchester United midfielder took over at the Riverside Stadium.
Akpom had never hit double figures in a league season before, making this by far the best campaign of his life, and he’s not even playing as an out-and-out striker.
Starting his career at Arsenal, and after various loan spells including in Belgium and Greece, he’s finally found his shooting boots in the North East, becoming the first Boro player to smash 25 league goals in a season in 52 years.
They were 21st when Carrick came in – now, after Akpom’s prolific exploits, they’re on the brink of playing Premier League football once again.
Stockport on the rise
After an 11-year absence, Stockport made it back to the Football League last summer and were hotly tipped to bounce straight up to League One following strong summer recruitment.
However, it was a shaky start for Dave Challinor’s side, who won just two of their opening 11 league games to cool talk of back-to-back promotions.
Since then, the Hatters have rarely lost (five defeats in their next 30 league games), and those lofty pre-season predictions look very much on.
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