Roberto De Zerbi has warned his Brighton and Hove Albion side that Sunday's Premier League clash at home to Sheffield United will be tougher than their midweek joy against Ajax. The Seagulls secured one of the greatest results in their history with a 2-0 win in Amsterdam on Thursday night.
It is a tight turnaround for De Zerbi's men ahead of Sunday afternoon's clash at the AMEX, with the Blades travelling south buoyed by a crucial result of their own after last weekend's victory over Wolves delivered their first win of the season. United could conceivably climb out of the bottom three with victory, if results elsewhere go their way - which would represent a huge psychological boost, after being widely written off by pundits and rival fans alike this season.
Brighton go into Sunday without three key men in Lewis Dunk, Pervis Estupinan and James Milner, with De Zerbi describing it as "a terrible situation". "But it’s like this and we can’t change anything," the highly-rated Italian added. "We have to be focused on the game on Sunday because I think it’s one of the most important games this season. I think it’s like a final for us.
"It will be a very tough game, tougher than yesterday. We know Sheffield is a good team, they won last week their first game and to win the game we have to play very well, a great game, with tight quality and attitude and we need our fans.
"I never ask anything of our fans but Sunday we need their support to win the game. And if we win Sunday, I think we can reach a different level. Not in the table, in the mentality. For it we have to prepare our best, like it’s a final."
Asked why he was placing so much importance on the game, De Zerbi added: "When you're not used to playing in Europe you can stay with your head in Amsterdam. That has already finished and the focus has to go on Sheffield. In the Premier League we have to win because the last victory was Bournemouth and we want to keep the level in the table in the Premier League as well."
United fans, who have seen their side decimated by injuries all season with the likes of Anel Ahmedhodzic, John Egan and Oli McBurnie currently sidelined, may scoff at De Zerbi's comments about the absence of Dunk, Estupinan and Milner. "Maybe sometimes you forget we are the only team in Premier League who lost the big players," De Zerbi added. "Not Aston Villa, not City, not Newcastle or West Ham. Brighton, yes.
"Brighton lost three important players and Brighton is playing three games in a week. It's very hard work for us, a very tough season and when I read we are not winning in five games, we have to understand the season. Otherwise you are making a big mistake."