Ruben Amorim rival for Liverpool manager's job is about to get best audition of all

Ruben Amorim, Head Coach of Sporting CP reacts prior to the Liga Portugal Betclic match between Moreirense FC and Sporting CP at Parque de Jogos Comendador Joaquim de Almeida Freitas on February 19, 2024 in Moreira de Conegos, Portugal. 

The Jurgen Klopp era may be entering its final days. But still there's time for the departing Liverpool boss to be given a reminder of when his reign hit absolute rock bottom.

"I can't remember a worse game, I honestly can't," said Klopp in the immediate aftermath. "I mean all, not only Liverpool, and that's my responsibility. So that makes it a really low point."

The Reds, of course, had just been humbled 3-0 by Brighton, a team that have become akin to kryptonite for Klopp since Roberto De Zerbi took charge on the Seagulls, who have been unbeaten in four subsequent meetings.

More than 14 months have passed since that chastening afternoon on the South Coast, with the rate of change at Liverpool evidenced by the fact it's likely only two starters that day - Mohamed Salah and Ibrahima Konate - will line up for the Reds at Anfield on Sunday afternoon when they again cross swords with De Zerbi's side.

Small wonder Klopp's propensity to talk up Brighton whenever the opportunity arises, although his latest such comments included a pointed reminder of the undoubted qualities of his own team.

Indeed, Liverpool's much-improved display on their last trip to the Seagulls in earning a 2-2 draw in early October signposted the respective seasons of both clubs, with the Reds chasing down a treble while Brighton, also hampered by extensive injuries, struggled to juggle domestic and European demands before being dumped out of the Europa League earlier this month by Roma.

The opportunity to land a psychological blow in the Premier League title race shortly before rivals Manchester City and Arsenal meet at the Etihad - victory will send Liverpool temporarily three points clear at the summit - has heightened the importance of tomorrow's clash, the first of 10 games in 50 days that will determine if Klopp's reign can finish with the flourish of a second championship.

But the decision of Xabi Alonso to remain at Bayer Leverkusen next season means the fixture has acquired another intriguing layer with De Zerbi now auditioning to become the next Liverpool boss.

Sporting Lisbon boss Ruben Amorim is the new favourite but Michael Edwards, Fenway Sports Group's new football supremo, and recently-appointed Liverpool sporting director Richard Hughes will keep an open mind.

De Zerbi is a good example of how perceptions can change. Having replaced Graham Potter as Brighton boss in September 2022, the Italian led the Seagulls to a first-ever European qualification while only missing out on an FA Cup final appearance due to a semi-final penalty shoot-out defeat to Manchester United. His stock was at its highest.

This season, though, has proven more difficult, with his squad not equipped for similar success and not helped by losing key players such as Alexis Mac Allister to Liverpool and Moises Caicedo to Chelsea. Indeed, since September the only teams Brighton have beaten in the Premier League are Nottingham Forest, Brentford, Tottenham Hotspur, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United.

While Edwards and Hughes won't be swayed by short-termism, it's clear De Zerbi isn't the preferred choice of the majority of the Liverpool fanbase. That might seem unfair as he has neither the emotional pull or recent success of Alonso, nor the mystique of Amorim. 

A regular feature in England for 18 months, familiarity has, if not bred contempt, then not exactly led to contentment with his managerial prowess.

That said, it could be the best audition of all, a continual assessment of De Zerbi's qualities at close quarters. Tomorrow, then, will be ultimate test of his suitability. Not that anyone at Liverpool will mind if he falls significantly short for just one afternoon.

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