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Roberto De Zerbi: Brighton’s Lewis Dunk has been playing through pain barrier

Roberto De Zerbi revealed Lewis Dunk has played through the pain barrier to aid Brighton’s European quest as he backed his captain for an England recall.

Seagulls centre-back Dunk has been ever-present in the Premier League this campaign but could begin on the bench against champions Manchester City on Wednesday evening due to ongoing calf and back issues.

Albion boss De Zerbi admits the 31-year-old took time to adapt to his high-intensity, possession-based style of play after he replaced Graham Potter in September.

Yet the Italian says influential leader Dunk has since cemented his status as a guaranteed starter and “deserves” another shot at international football.

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“At first it was not so easy for him to understand my idea but he gave me total availability,” said De Zerbi.

“I would like him to be more open because he doesn’t speak a lot but he’s an example inside of the dressing room, inside of the pitch.

“He’s playing with a lot of problems because he has calf and back problems but he is playing every game.

“Tomorrow he can start on the bench but I don’t know because if he can play with me in Brighton, he has to play always.”

England manager Gareth Southgate will on Wednesday name his squad for next month’s Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia.

Dunk was capped by Southgate in a 3-0 friendly win over the United States in November 2018 but has not featured again for his country.

“He deserves to play in the national team,” said De Zerbi.

“It’s not my work to decide the players of the national team but for us it should be a target.

“I hope he can play in the national team.”

Brighton secured continental football next term with two games to spare thanks to Sunday’s 3-1 win over relegated Southampton.

Sixth-placed Albion will almost certainly be in the Europa League due to their healthy goal difference but need one more point to banish any prospect of having to settle for the Europa Conference League.

De Zerbi has warned the Seagulls must improve their squad during the summer in order to avoid potentially following divisional rivals Leicester and West Ham in slipping from European contenders to relegation candidates.

The Foxes are on the brink of falling into the Sky Bet Championship after playing in Europe during the previous two seasons, while David Moyes’ Europa Conference League finalists were in danger of the drop for much of this campaign.

“I push with Tony (Bloom, Brighton owner) to improve the squad every day,” said De Zerbi.

“I don’t want my club to spend too much money but we have to improve. To compete in four competitions, we have to improve and know the situation.

“Leicester, West Ham this year explain the Premier League.

“If you don’t improve year by year you can find a surprise the year after because our achievement this year is not important for the next year.

“Next year we will start not in sixth position, we start level with the other teams.”