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Big clubs should have targeted ‘one of the best’ Lewis Dunk, insists Roberto De Zerbi

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Roberto De Zerbi is baffled Lewis Dunk has never been poached by a leading Premier League club ahead of the long-serving defender’s 400th appearance for Brighton.

Seagulls captain Dunk is in line to reach the milestone in Tuesday evening’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Stoke.

Aside from a brief loan stint at Bristol City a decade ago, the once-capped England international has spent his entire career with his hometown team.

“For me it’s difficult to understand how he has never played for a big team in the Premier League,” said head coach De Zerbi.

“If you ask me what I think about Dunk, I think he’s one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League.

“This is my opinion but I know well his potential, his standard of performances.”

Dunk, who made his debut in 2010, handed in a transfer request during the early stages of the 2015-16 season when Brighton were in the Sky Bet Championship.

At the time, the 31-year-old was heavily linked with Fulham, who were also in the second tier.

Yet, despite being capped by his country in 2018 and regularly impressing at the Amex Stadium, he has never come close to joining a top-flight rival.

De Zerbi intends to start his skipper in the midweek cup clash against Championship opposition at the bet365 Stadium.

The Italian is targeting a trip to Wembley as he awaits the outcome of an improper conduct charge from the Football Association.

“For us, the FA Cup is very important,” said De Zerbi, whose side were dumped out of the Carabao Cup by League One Charlton in December.

“Tomorrow is not an important game, it’s a crucial game because we want to arrive in Wembley to play the semi-final.

“OK, there will be another game (quarter-final) if we win tomorrow but we have to stay focused on only Stoke.

“We know very well what happened in the Charlton game. We remember very well.”

De Zerbi is waiting to discover his fate from the FA, having last week been reprimanded following his red card after Albion’s frustrating 1-0 loss to Fulham on February 18.

The 43-year-old, who had until Monday to respond to the charge, was shown a red card in the tunnel by referee Darren England and went on to criticise the match official’s performance.

“I don’t know the situation,” he said. “We will see tomorrow or the next days.

“But for me, the argument is closed. I spoke clearly with you (the media) after the game.

“I don’t want to speak too much because you knew me in these last months and I don’t like to speak about referees or the decision of the referees.”

Danny Welbeck could return from injury against the Potters but Solly March will sit out with a minor issue, in addition to Pervis Estupinan, Levi Colwill, Billy Gilmour and Adam Lallana.