After a falling out between manager Roberto Di Zerbi and his former first-choice netminder, Brighton moved quickly to strengthen its goalkeeping department. The Seagulls shelled out £16.3m to sign Netherlands’ Under-21s goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen from Anderlecht, fending off competition from Burnley and Nottingham Forest.
Let’s examine the 20 year-old’s journey and what we can expect from him under Roberto Di Zerbi.
Verbruggen began his football career at his hometown club NAC Breda before moving to Anderlecht in 2020. The youngster made his debut for Anderlecht in May 2021, but he had to make do with a place on the bench as the second-choice goalkeeper for the next two seasons. He would get his chance to make his first league start for Anderlecht on Boxing Day, seizing the opportunity with both gloves.
Verbruggen has gone on to feature in every league game since, helping the club to the quarterfinals of the Europa Conference League. The youngster managed ten impressive clean sheets in 24 senior appearances for Anderlecht, and was awarded the club’s Player of the Season gong for his remarkable performances.
How will Verbruggen fit at Brighton?
Standing a lofty 6’ 4” (193 cm), Verbruggen is a commanding presence between the sticks and is also exceptional with the ball at his feet. He is a strong shot-stopper with a particular talent for saving attempts from distance. Verbruggen saved 82.5% of the shots he faced last season, ranking him in the 99th percentile of all goalkeepers in Europe.
For all of his ability with his hands, it was Verbruggen’s skill with his feet and his impressive understanding of the game that attracted the interest of Brighton’s Di Zerbi. The youngster is a perfect example of a modern-day “sweeper keeper” in that he confidently ventures out of his area to mop up long balls played over the defense, and also kickstarts attacking movements by playing line-breaking long and short passes.
Verbruggen’s style of play will allow Brighton’s back line to push higher up the pitch, winning the ball in the opponent’s half and helping with quicker transitions. This meshes perfectly with Di Zerbi’s philosophy of high pressing and overloading certain areas of the field to drag opposition players out of position. The youngster’s 42 touches per 90 minutes saw him rank in the 92nd percentile among European goalkeepers, demonstrating Verbruggen’s central role in Anderlecht’s build-up play.
Despite his youth, Verbruggen could slot directly into the starting lineup at Falmer Stadium. A sulking Sanchez is believed to be on his way out the door after losing the #1 spot to Jason Steele due to the Spaniard’s limitations with the ball at his feet. And although Steele was an excellent fit for Di Zerbi’s philosophy of playing the ball out of the back, his skills as a shot-stopper leave something to be desired.
However, Verbruggen excels at all aspects of modern goalkeeping, possessing the same strengths as Sanchez and Steele but the weaknesses of neither. And as the fourth-most expensive signing in Brighton’s history, it seems unlikely that Di Zerbi purchased the Dutchman merely to serve as a backup.
One of the world’s most promising young goalkeepers, Verbruggen is priced at just £4.5m in FPL, offering a cheap route into the Seagulls’ backline.
With Brighton poised for a favorable run of opening fixtures, early acquisition could pay off if Verbruggen is Di Zerbi’s starter. We recommend monitoring Brighton’s preseason lineups for clues to who the gaffer will select as his #1.
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