Bart Verbruggen: Why Brighton’s new goalkeeper is a fine fit for De Zerbi’s system – scout report
The role of the goalkeeper has evolved over the years, with the modern game often requiring keepers with a higher technical skillset than those of years gone by. The level of technicality required depends on the demands of the team’s manager, aka their tactics. For example, Manchester City have Ederson, who is a talented player on the ball with excellent distribution skills – abilities that go hand-in-hand with Pep Guardiola’s tactics. Brighton & Hove Albion have moved quickly in the summer transfer window to strengthen their goalkeeping department, which suffered from inconsistency last season in the Premier League, with the number one position shared by Robert Sánchez and Jason Steele.
Roberto De Zerbi has added some quality to the ranks by signing Dutch goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen, who joins the Seagulls for a reported £16.3m fee from Belgian club RSC Anderlecht. This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of the player – with the primary focus being an analysis of Verbruggen’s ability in possession. While this scout report will include analysis images of Verbruggen playing for Netherlands U21s and Anderlecht in various competitions, any data included will be taken from Verbruggen’s appearances this season in the Belgian Pro League.
At 20 years old, Verbruggen is still some way from what would be considered the prime years of his career but has already demonstrated outstanding technical and mental abilities in his short career. He joined the Belgian giants in 2020 from Dutch side NAC Breda, and up until the halfway stages of the 2022/23 campaign, was still playing his football for Anderlecht’s reserve side. Since his call-up, he featured 17 times for the first team in the league, conceding 21 goals. He also featured six times in Anderlecht’s impressive UEFA Conference League run.
When considering data compared to other goalkeepers in the Belgian Pro League, it is essential to remember that Verbruggen played significantly fewer games. This will be at least part of the reason for some of the low percentile rankings in the pizza graph above.
Noteworthy percentiles are his high save rate despite registering a relatively high goals conceded per 90 record – this paints the picture of Anderlecht’s inconsistent form. While his pass accuracy percentile is low (which is odd considering the quality on display when you watch him), his high pass frequency suggests that he is fearless in getting involved with possession phases – an essential element of Brighton’s tactics – the high percentile rank for received passes per 90 makes the same point here too.
As we mentioned, technical ability is a must for most top-division sides in elite football, and this is the case for Brighton, as De Zerbi has introduced a possession-based system, meaning their goalkeeper must be equipped with the technical tools to contribute. This mainly relates to their distribution skills but also brings other factors into play, as this segment will touch upon.
A goalkeeper being involved in possession phases isn’t just a case of giving and receiving short passes inside their six-yard box – they need to show the awareness and positioning to receive passes in other areas, based on the scenario at hand. Verbruggen’s touch map shows us that he isn’t afraid to leave his box to contribute to play and will sometimes come out to support possession by being close to his centre-backs when they’re pushed up high.
We see an example of just that in this first image. While this may seem like a small detail (and it is), it is important as his positioning supports his teammates – both in shape going forward and as a close passing option if required. His positioning here, especially when he’s on the ball himself, enables his centre-backs to push wider apart, adding more width to their side’s attacking shape.
There isn’t a great deal to decipher looking at his pass map other than it serving as evidence that he does get involved often in possession and is reliable on the ball. In 2022/23, he averaged 33.49 passes per 90, with an accuracy of 82.2% – not a bad tally at all when you remember his long balls are included in this figure.
Drilling into his passing numbers slightly more, he averaged 21 short passes per 90 with an accuracy rating of 98.2% – nearing perfection. His long passes, of which he averaged 12.49 per 90, were accurate 55.5% of the time. While this number may not seem positive next to his high accuracy for short passing, 55.5% is still a fairly impressive number for a GK’s long passing.
We see here an example of his short passing as he tries to help his side play out from the back – note the wide CBs again. Not only does Verbruggen play the initial short pass, but he makes a good off-the-ball movement to follow up his pass, making himself available at a different angle in more space. This was wise as the AZ striker was closing in, and offering possession assistance that close to an opponent is a risky move.
His passing range was likely one of the driving factors in Brighton pursuing and signing the young keeper. He has shown an ability to play with either foot (mainly on short passes) but has also demonstrated that he can pick out passes at varying distances, highlighting his vision. Where many keepers in his position in the image above would have either played the short pass to a defender or cleared their lines, Verbruggen stayed true to the possession cause and picked out his teammate in a wide area just shy of the halfway line.
This visual highlights his passing range even more while comparing it to Brighton’s number one last season, Robert Sánchez. Brighton’s newcomer executed more progressive passes than his new Spanish teammate, with more passes hitting the final third and even a couple of his passes reaching the penalty area. On this basis alone, Verbruggen is ticking boxes already.
When we look a little more closely at the numbers behind his long passing, you will likely still be impressed. He averages 3.87 passes to the final third per 90, with an accuracy rating of 42.3%, showing that he does have the accuracy in picking out dangerous long-range passes.
This example pinpoints that passing ability. While his wide teammate is in plenty of space on the flank, picking him out is still a task the keeper has to get right, other he risks giving possession away. The fact that Verbruggen had the confidence and ability to play a pass like this gave Anderlecht (and now gives Brighton) the added element of versatility in their play – they can catch the opponent off-guard as they expect a shorter pass.
Quick thinking is another vital tool for a goalkeeper to have, especially in transition moments where they’ve claimed the ball following a failed opposition attack. Verbruggen is good at this, seemingly possessing a natural want to get forward as quickly as possible then the ball is in his hands just after stopping an attack. While he will sometimes look for the long ball over the opposition defence, he also takes the option of throwing/rolling the ball out occasionally. However, this is something he should consider more often.
A safe pair of hands
This visual shows the shots Verbruggen faced last season – the goals he conceded, the shots he saved, versus the same data of Sánchez. This gives us an idea of his shot-stopping ability and consistency between the sticks compared to his top competitor for the number one position.
They both faced similar xG totals last campaign, but Verbruggen’s high save ratio comes into place, giving him a significantly higher record for prevented goals. This is proof that he is more than just a good passer with a pair of gloves on – he has the shot-stopping attributes to back it up. If you’ve seen him play, you’ll know about his quick reactions, firm hand, and reliable handling. Verbruggen averages a healthy record of 3.55 saves per 90 – with 67.7% requiring quick reflexes!
This example shines a positive light on his goalkeeping ability for several reasons. Firstly, the shot from the opponent could’ve come at any time thanks to the space he had, so focus and awareness had to be spot on from Verbruggen. When the opponent was able to turn and get near the six-yard box, Verbruggen opted against rushing out all the way, instead coming a couple of yards off his line and making himself big to put pressure on the forward. The shot was down low to Verbruggen’s left, and the big guy was able to get a hand down quickly to stop the shot from going in.
We mentioned earlier his quick reactions; we get a glimpse of that in the form of rushing out to meet the opponent here. While this isn’t something you should regularly expect from the Dutchman, he picks his moments well, only coming out when he feels it is absolutely necessary and beneficial. Above, he rushed out as it looked as though the opponent was about to break free into a 1v1 opportunity on goal, so Verbruggen made sure it didn’t get that far, stopping the attack dead as he met the forward.
Predicting when Verbruggen will become Brighton’s number-one goalkeeper is difficult. Robert Sánchez may still be De Zerbi’s go-to option. At the same time, Jason Steele brings an element of experience into the fold. Brighton also has Kjell Scherpen returning to the club after the 23-year-old spent the season on loan at Eredivisie club Vitesse.
Verbruggen certainly has a set of attributes that give him the chance to compete for the number-one spot, but whether that happens this season remains to be seen. An interesting move would be for De Zerbi to utilise the cup competitions to get him some important match experience.