06.03.2024 13:25 h

Friends reunited for De Rossi as revived Roma face De Zerbi's Brighton

Daniele De Rossi's reborn Roma will face their biggest night yet on Thursday when his friend Roberto De Zerbi returns to Italy with Brighton and Hove Albion for an intriguing Europa League last-16 tie.

In less than two months since taking over from Jose Mourinho, De Rossi has turned his boyhood club's season around with passage past old foes Feyenoord in the competition's play-offs and a sudden burst of form in Serie A.

Now the former Roma captain has a chance to test his mettle against one of his closest friends in football in De Zerbi, who is a big influence on his coaching style.

The 40-year-old's relationship with De Zerbi has been cemented by the pair's daughters becoming friends, meeting up in London to watch Roma matches together.

De Rossi joked last month that De Zerbi's daughter "won't be wearing a Roma scarf" when her dad's team take on the capital club.

"I get on with him very well, he's been like an open book for me. He's always let me look at everything, from set-pieces to tactics and training. He's a good friend and a great manager," said De Rossi after the last-16 draw.

Roma have quickly become a far more exciting proposition than they were under Mourinho, who is beloved in the Italian capital for reaching two European finals is as many seasons and giving their team the steel for big occasions.

Mourinho ended a 14-year trophy drought for the club by winning the inaugural Europa Conference League in 2022 before losing last year's Europa League final on penalties to Sevilla.

He was sacked out of the blue in January as Roma's season threatened to go completely off the rails, and De Rossi was seen as a big gamble to replace him as he only had four months of experience at lower-league outfit SPAL under his belt.

However it is so far paying off as another continental knockout campaign accompanies increasingly accomplished displays in Serie A, where Roma are firmly in contention for next season's revamped Champions League.

Saturday's 4-1 thumping of Monza was Roma's sixth win in seven league matches under De Rossi, in which time the capital club have scored 20 times.

De Rossi's Roma, who are fifth and four points behind fourth-placed Bologna, have only lost to champions-elect Inter Milan and are Serie A's second-highest scorers with 52 goals in 27 league fixtures.

He also has his star forwards Paulo Dybala and Romelu Lukaku in good spirits, with both on target at the weekend and Dybala in particular flourishing in a more open team where he isn't the only source of attacking inspiration.

The Argentina international has scored nine times since the turn of the year in all competitions and looks healthier than at any time since joining Roma as a free agent in 2022.

Roma's recent European experience -- they have also reached the last four of both the Europa League and Champions League in the last six years -- could count against Brighton who are playing their first ever knockout tie.

Brighton are also in a bitty run of form with FA Cup and Premier League defeats to Wolverhampton Wanderers and Fulham in their last two fixtures.

Nevertheless De Rossi is under no illusions about the task at hand against his close ally, who is already being tipped to take over at some of the world's biggest clubs.

"I think he's a genius. Whether you like him or not, he's brought something new," said De Rossi.

"It's going to be an open match against a team which has hurt a lot of the big boys in the Premier League."