Brighton and Hove Albion manager Roberto De Zerbi said that upcoming opponents Everton ’are a very good team’ as the Seagulls prepare to host a difficult Premier League game on Saturday.

With full focus on the game against Sean Dyche’s outfit despite the significant morning news of Brighton’s Europa League Round of 16 draw against Roma, De Zerbi switched between jovial and serious moods in a busy press conference.

The Italian touched on a midweek meal with Ansu Fati and Pervis Estupinan, updates on injured players and a focus on how the Toffees could pose big threats at the Amex across a half-hour discussion.

Ahead of a key game, these quotes told a story of De Zerbi’s attention to detail and recognition of how important every game is in a congested fight for European places right now.

  • Taking on the Toffees

With Brighton posting a mixed record against Everton during their Premier League stay – winning four games, drawing three and losing six – everyone at the club knows how big the 3.00pm Saturday kick-off is.

The Seagulls, and manager De Zerbi, were scarred by a 5-1 defeat in the same fixture last May, one which was ultimately decisive in Everton surviving relegation.

After a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park earlier this season, there is frustration emerging in games against the Merseyside club which De Zerbi was keen to cut short this weekend.

“Everton are a very good team,” said De Zerbi.

“In the table, they are not in the right position, but they have a clear kind of play.

“It is a tough game – we have to be ready to not concede counter-attacks, to keep the ball and to move the ball in the right way, to have patience during the game, to be prepared to defend set-pieces and the long ball, to win the second ball.

“They are good players, but in the Premier League there are not easy games.”

Further to the quality Everton possess in terms of individuals, it is also obvious that the Toffees will threaten from set-pieces on Saturday.

Sean Dyche’s side are the second-highest scorers from set-pieces in the Premier League this season, with their 14 goals behind only Arsenal’s 17 to give every team something to worry about.

“You can't be unprepared on set pieces if you play against Everton, or against Newcastle,” said De Zerbi.

“[Jordan] Pickford is another important player for them [who] is crucial.

“He has an incredible personality and is important to their style of play. We know very well this part of the play and we have to be ready to defend in the best way, otherwise, we can't win.”

  • An Evening in Roma

Another big talking point of the press conference came off the back of the Europa League Round of 16 draw that took place on Friday morning.

Brighton were handed a glamour tie against Roma, a side who De Zerbi has faced both as a player and a manager, and while he played down the huge anticipation of the tie in March, the Italian did heap praise on their forthcoming opponents.

“I want to keep my eyes on the Everton game, and then we play [in the] FA Cup on Wednesday against Wolves.

“Then, we will think about Roma, the game in the Europa League which for sure is a tough game.

“But if we want to go for more in the Europa League, we have to win [against] Roma or another team.”

Adding later that Roma manager Daniele De Rossi was a close friend, whose daughter is friends with De Zerbi’s daughter, and that he has much respect for the legendary former Italy midfielder, De Zerbi seemed to be positive for the huge challenge ahead.

  • Mitoma missing again

Having had such a confident comeback since returning from the Asia Cup, Kaoru Mitoma was particularly potent against Sheffield United last weekend.

Unfortunately, De Zerbi confirmed in his press conference that the Japan winger was unable to build on that momentum this weekend.

“We have a problem with Kaoru Mitoma – he has a problem with the back,” said De Zerbi.

“I don't know if he can play or not, but I think not. We [will] analyse the situation the next day.

“But we are used to playing without important players.”

João Pedro was another player confirmed to be out of the game, as his recovery will take longer to be back to full fitness.

“I don’t know [when he will be back], but it is early for him,” said De Zerbi.

“He needs another two, three, four weeks.”

 In a more positive light, there was good news about winger Julio Enciso ahead of the Everton contest.

“Julio [can] come on the bench, which is great news for us,” said De Zerbi.

“He can’t start the game, he can’t play too much time, but he's working with us [and] that’s a good thing for us.”

  • Who’s that man from Argentina?

On top of the return of Enciso, another attacking option for Brighton going forward is Valentín Barco, who took part in training in Lancing for the first time this week.

The 19-year-old Argentine is capable of playing in a range of positions on the left flank and also in midfield, and injuries to Mitoma, James Milner and Solly March mean that opportunities could be presented soon.

When asked about the new recruit, however, De Zerbi played coy on his forthcoming involvement.

“It is difficult to understand if he is ready or not,” said the Italian.

“It is very tough, especially for the young players when they come from a different country, with different football and we have to concede him much time to understand the new country, the different rules, and the different style of play.

“In other leagues, there isn't the same atmosphere as the Premier League.

“I think in the Premier League, you can see a different style of playing depending on the team you are playing against and then I'm ready to help him as well the other players I have already done.”

In the more immediate future, Ansu Fati seemed the most likely option to fill the left-wing gap vacated by Mitoma this weekend.

Ansu is a great guy. Ansu and Pervis Estupiñán both ate dinner at my home this week, and he knows he has to give something more and we are here to help the young players, especially these young players who have such big talent.”

Having dropped the bombshell about dinner, De Zerbi’s best moment of the conference came while explaining the nature of his tradition.

“I rotate the players to try the Italian kitchen,” he said.

Asked what they enjoyed, De Zerbi revealed: “Pasta, Italian. Do you want to try too?

“With the journalists, I do have not the same relationship as with the players. We do not have a good relationship you know?”

As for whether journalists could soon try the kitchen…

“We have to finish the season,” De Zerbi said.