Southampton Are Finally Being Rewarded for Sticking With Ralph Hasenhttl

Southampton may be licking their wounds as they saw their 2-0 lead against Wolves evaporate in the time it takes to watch an episode of The Simpsons, but Ralph Hasenhüttl and his side haven't had much need to say 'D'oh!' in recent weeks.

In fact, the man who was known as the 'Alpine Jürgen Klopp' upon his arrival to these shores (a nickname which he has little time for) has been leading a quiet revolution on the south coast since his arrival. 

Ralph Hasenhuttl

It's been more than a year since Hasenhüttl replaced Mark Hughes in the Saints' dugout with the club mired in a relegation battle, 18th in the table when he arrived. With one or two bumps along the way, the 52-year-old steered them to safety pretty swiftly, as their 2-0 win at home to Fulham in February marked the last time they would occupy the bottom-three for the remainder of the campaign. 

Hasenhüttl's first five months with the club exclusively revolved around avoiding the drop, with the Austrian trying out a raft of formations, with a three-man defence, flat back four and packed back-five all getting air time as he cobbled together the group of players he had inherited in the search for points rather than performances. 

With a full pre-season under his belt and a sprinkling of new arrivals, the Austrian's philosophy is finally starting to permeate through the club and be realised on the pitch. 

This 'philosophy', a term Hasenhüttl himself uses to describe his playing style, is most obviously embodied by the high pressing he demands of his players and his formation of choice, 4-2-2-2 (also known by the infinitely more satisfying 4-triple-2). 

The imposing Saints boss used this set-up in 66 of his 83 games in charge of Germany's newest title challengers RB Leipzig over the course of his two seasons with the club. And this campaign has given the St Mary's faithful the opportunity to see their side thrive in this line up. 

RB Leipzig v Olympique Marseille - UEFA Europa League Quarter Final Leg One

The formation may be key, but it is not only the vehicle Hasenhüttl uses to best deploy his side to execute his core ideals, namely, pressing the opposition. 

As Hasenhüttl outlined his approach to Martin Keown in an interview with the ​Daily Mail, he said: "The best playmaker is the ball winner. Statistically, the chance of creating a goal is higher within 10 seconds of winning the ball.

"We have four parts of our game: working against the ball; in possession; losing the ball; winning the ball. If you are good in all four parts, you have a good chance of winning."

This strategy is also borne out in the numbers. So far this season, only ​Manchester City and Leicester have allowed fewer opposition passes before they attempt a defensive action than Southampton. With the Saints pressing at almost the same rate as ​Liverpool

James Ward-Prowse,Giovani Lo Celso

Hasenhüttl has breathed a new lease of life into many of his key players this term with the sight of James Ward-Prowse and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg hunting down the opposition in packs, or nets as the Austrian describes it, something that few could have imagined after one win under Hughes the season he was sacked. 


However, it's not all been plain-sailing on the south coast. 2019/20, a campaign optimistic fans would've had earmarked for a return to challenging for the Europa League, started with two wins from 19 ​Premier League matches. 


The 9-0 loss to Leicester which came in this run has to be mentioned and as Hasenhüttl stood in the driving rain, watching Jamie Vardy somewhat needlessly shush the home fans after (finally) ending the scoring from the penalty spot, one could be forgiven for thinking this would be his last game at the helm. 

Jamie Vardy,Angus Gunn

But the paymasters of the club held their nerve, and the form ​Southampton have shown since will serve as vital evidence in the argument made by any future manager in a poor run for keeping the faith. 

Much has been made of the fact that, over the last ten games, Southampton have six wins and 19 points to their name, a record bettered only by the league's top two. However, Saturday's 3-2 loss to Wolves is the continuation of a worrying trend of letting leads slip. 


Since the start of last season, Southampton have dropped 42 points from leading positions - 13 more than any other Premier League side.

This may be the result of fatigue creeping in, as the players' fitness is yet to catch up with their willingness to press, but it's hard to say without further evidence. 

One area which it's clear Hasenhüttl's men do thrive in has been set pieces. This season, only three sides in the division can better the Saints' nine goals from dead balls, with the delivery from Ward-Prowse drawing praise from lofty positions. 

FBL-ENG-PR-WATFORD-SOUTHAMPTON

Pep Guardiola lauded the Englishman's ability last season when he told the Independent: "We concede a lot of corner kicks and with the best taker in the league [James Ward-Prowse] like Southampton had."

This is not a new route to goal which Hasenhüttl has acquired from English football. In 2015/16, the Austrian managed newly-promoted side Ingolstadt to an 11th-place finish in their debut season in the ​Bundesliga, with 60% of the team’s goals coming from set pieces. Interestingly, Brighton's Pascal Groß was the primary set piece taker for that side. 


From relegation-bound to the path of a return to the Premier League's middle class, Ralph Hasenhüttl has worked wonders at Southampton in the 13 months he's been with the team. 


With an emphasis on high pressing, high octane football which thrives in chaos, the Austrian has instilled an identity at the club which looked set to end its seven-year stint in the top flight with a whimper before he arrived, and the future looks pretty rosy for those in red and white.


Source : 90min