This is a special time to be a Brighton supporter. The Seagulls are on course for their highest ever finish, with European qualification in their sights and a trip to Wembley later this month to face Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-finals.
A force to be reckoned with at the top level, their commitment to data analysis has unearthed some talented players and a manager who is getting the best out of them.
So far, Roberto De Zerbi's belief in bold, possession-based attacking football has been rewarded since replacing Graham Potter as manager in September.
"He's a manager who wants to have the ball all the time," says Tottenham midfielder Sandro, who played under De Zerbi during a spell at Benevento.
"A very intelligent and very particular manager who thinks a lot about the game. He helps players and gives them the details they need to hurt the opponent."
The ambitious De Zerbi has never been afraid of a challenge. Benevento, a small club from Campania, in the south-west of Italy, reached Serie A for the first time in 2017 but soon discovered that they were out of their depth. After losing their first nine league games, scoring just once, De Zerbi took over.
Realistically, Benevento were already doomed to relegation, but they approached the rest of the season with impressive spirit and intensity. Sandro was one of several January signings, joining on loan from Turkish side Antalyaspor.
"Benevento were in a very bad situation, but De Zerbi picked some players to try to improve the team and I was part of that. I didn't know that I was going to meet one of the best coaches that I've had. It was amazing because I learned a lot from him, and I really enjoyed playing for him. I saw great things," says Sando.
"When I arrived there, I was already an experienced player and I'd seen so many coaches. He made me come to games with fire, like 'what's he going to teach us today? What are we going to do?' You must be good to do that. I wanted more. I wanted to play for him."
Asked what characteristics you need to play for De Zerbi, Sandro repeats the same word several times: "heart'"
"The players need to give everything. They need to give blood on the field. He doesn't like players who are just happy to be there."
While Benevento suffered a lot of setbacks- 20 out of De Zerbi's 29 games as manager ended in defeat - he never let the mood in the dressing room turn to despair. With his infectious enthusiasm, he inspired his players to keep fighting until the very end, even after their fate had been sealed.
"He's a very open guy with a big heart. My relationship with him was amazing. I was his captain at that time. He was so open when he spoke with me. It was great because I could improve my football and say what I wanted to," Sandro adds.
"The first thing I saw was a manager who was very hungry for success. He's so passionate about the game. I think that's why he's improving day by day."
In relegation, Benevento and De Zerbi still won plenty of admirers for their courage and work ethic. Sassuolo moved quickly to recruit him that summer. Over the next three years, he transformed the club's outlook. They challenged for Europe with an adventurous, high-energy style of play.
"It was really fun to play in his team. I've played for a lot of clubs, and some of my coaches were great players like Marco van Basten, Ronald Koeman, Sinisa Mihajlovic, but I never had fun like I did with Roberto," says Filip Djuricic, who followed De Zerbi from Benevento to Sassuolo.
"He looks at football in a different way. He's like a number 10, but in a coach's suit!
"He showed Italy how to play a different type of football. We were very brave and we weren't afraid of anyone. It's a very complicated style of football, but when you look at it on the TV, it's very nice. When I watch Brighton sometimes, I laugh to myself because I recognise the situations. He properly put his ideas in our minds."
Djuricic was often deployed in attacking midfield and has played more matches for De Zerbi than any other manager in his career. Both occasionally volatile and headstrong, they share a mutual respect that outlasted any of their brief disputes.
"I'm Serbian and we can be difficult characters! He's a little bit similar, but he's a very good person. He always looks at the human side first of all, then the football side," says the 31-year-old, now at Sampdoria.
"We had a really close relationship. I look at him like my second father. We argued a lot of times but, the day after, when we came to training, everything would be normal. He tried to look at the situation from both sides. That's a big advantage."
Despite their closeness, Djuricic was held to the same exacting standards as everyone else at Sassuolo. When he fell short, he faced the consequences. In January 2021, he was dropped from the squad to face Atalanta.
"We argued about tactics," he recalls. "I didn't like something and I overreacted. He punished me by leaving me out of the team for one game. After that, everything went back to normal and I played regularly. He likes to talk openly about situations. I found myself making a mistake, I apologised and we worked it out."
An obsessive coach, De Zerbi is always searching for solutions. Rather than just resorting to the transfer market, he wants to help players learn and develop. Domenico Berardi, Manuel Locatelli and Giacomo Raspadori all took their performances to the next level under his watch.
"He showed us that we could play against big teams," said Djuricic. "If you're playing against Inter Milan, and you have 70% possession, that means you've improved a lot mentally. You're playing against Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez and you're in charge of the game. That gives you a lot of confidence."
Throughout an eclectic career, Sandro has worked with more than 30 managers, including Cesare Prandelli, Tite and Andre Villas-Boas, but he holds De Zerbi in the highest esteem.
"We didn't have pressure because the team was already down. But I said, 'If he can do this with a team that doesn't have anything to play for, can you imagine when he has guys who are playing for something?' Seeing him now, in the Premier League, I'm so proud," says the 34-year-old.
"It's a pleasure to have a manager like him. He improved the players a lot. I was talking about him years ago but now the world knows about him. He deserves to be where he is because he's a top coach. I believe he's going to be one of the best very soon."