Ralph Hasenhuttl: What went wrong at Southampton?

Ralph Hasenhuttl's departure from Southampton was widely reported after he oversaw a 4-1 defeat at home to a red-hot Newcastle United and the Saints have finally confirmed his sacking in a club statement.

Hasenhuttl was one of the Premier League's longest-serving managers, having spent almost four years at the club, but Southampton have opted to pull the plug following a poor start to the 2022/23 season.

The Saints, through 14 games, currently sit in the relegation zone with just 12 points.

Often working with limited resources, Hasenhuttl gained widespread veneration for his coaching performance down on the south coast. He lifted the club from an ominous position after taking over midway through the 2018/19 season and while he failed to replicate the heights of the prosperous Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman eras, the Austrian did guide the Saints to the FA Cup semi-finals in 2021.

Hasenhuttl has spoken previously about an early retirement, but it'd be a surprise to see him call it a career following this setback. The Austrian will have no problems finding another job, but it might be wise of him to look over his Saints tenure and assess where exactly it went wrong for future reference.

How did such a promising stint turn upside down? Let's take a look.

Losing trust of several key players

Some Southampton players were surprised Hasenhuttl wasn't sacked in the summer | James Gill - Danehouse/GettyImages

Entering the 2022/23 season, Hasenhuttl had already established himself as Southampton's longest-serving manager in over 20 years. That feat in itself is impressive, but it had become clear that the Austrian's methods were starting to wear thin on some senior players.

Hasenhuttl had done an excellent job in galvanising the St Mary's crowd and uniting his squad during his tenure, but the novelty of the demanding head coach was wearing off and anarchy never seemed to be too far away. It felt like the beginning of the end.

Some of the squad were reportedly surprised that he wasn't sacked in the summer after he oversaw just one Premier League win in their last 12 outings of the 2021/22 campaign. The board stuck with their man, but the players continued to voice their concerns as the Saints started the 2022/23 season slowly.

Reports emerged after the 2-1 defeat at home to Everton in October of Hasenhuttl having “no relationship” with his players. Once such an ebullient and effusive touchline figure, the Austrian started to emanate indifference and apathy. He knew his time was almost up.

Underperforming in front of goal

Che Adams is far from prolific | James Williamson - AMA/GettyImages

Hasenhuttl's bold and courageous principles helped Southampton score memorable victories over the Premier League's elite. Sure, there were times when the Saints were utterly dismantled which led to humiliating defeats, but the Austrian's side were almost always an intriguing and exciting watch.

Hasenhuttl brought the Red Bull mantra to St Mary's. His side were direct, vertical, aggressive, and his coaching meant the Saints could compete with almost anybody on their day.

However, following the departure of Danny Ings in 2021, Southampton have been bereft of a natural goalscorer and they've unsurprisingly underperformed in front of goal since.

Last season, the Saints scored just 43 times in 38 league games when they were expected to score closer to 47. This underperformance was the eighth-worst in the Premier League, and the trend continued into 2022/23. They've scored just 12 goals in 14 games, but are underperforming their xG by 2.72, the fifth-worst in the league.

Southampton currently sit 18th as a result of their final-third inefficiency. According to Understat, the Saints sit 12th on expected points - ahead of Chelsea. In short, Hasenhuttl's side have scored less than they should've done while conceding more than they were expected to.

Summer overhaul in personnel

Southampton made a huge number of signings in the summer | Robin Jones/GettyImages

Following the departures of Ings and Ryan Bertrand in 2021, as well as the exits of Fraser Forster, Nathan Redmond, and Oriol Romeu ahead of the 2022/23 season, Southampton had entered rebuild mode.

Nevertheless, the Saints' summer business was hugely promising. They signed their long-term number one in Gavin Bazuna, while the likes of Armel Bella-Kotchap, Sekou Mara, and Romeo Lavia all have the potential to garner big fees when the club eventually decides to sell them on.

Southampton have fielded the youngest starting XI in the Premier League this season, and there's certainly reason for optimism over the Saints' future given the young talent at their disposal. Considering their limited finances, Southampton recruited superbly.

However, Hasenhuttl's fracturing relationship with his senior players meant he was never going to get the time he required to oversee such a rebuild.

The Austrian recognised the need for patience following last month's home defeat against Everton: “They (the team) need time. They will be one time a very good team, but as we said, we know about Premier League football. Young and talented is nice to have but the rest is about learning and developing quickly.”

Considering their youth, consistency was always going to be an issue.

Ultimately, it was Southampton's dire end to last season which cost Hasenhuttl his job.

The pitiful conclusion to 2021/22 was the beginning of the end for the Austrian manager on the South Coast as his relationships with some senior players became fractured.

While their start to the new campaign has been poor, the majority of their individual performances and results have been excusable. Southampton were expected to struggle given the turnover in personnel, and Hasenhuttl may well have been afforded more time hadn't the Saints performed so poorly at the backend of last season.

Nevertheless, Hasenhuttl departs St Mary's with his reputation very much in tact. This was an incredibly difficult period for the Austrian to navigate through, but he did so - for the most part - expertly.

Source : 90min