A huge percentage of clubs would be drawn towards sacking the manager if the team ever lost 9-0 at home. It just leads to everything come crashing down. The heads drop to an unimaginable nadir and there is an alarm at the club. Southampton have given an example to clubs though, that a 9-0 loss isn’t the end of the world. It is a lesson to get better from.
Since losing by that embarrassing margin, the Saints have put on a rather unexpected run. They have lost only five games since then, winning as many as seven of them. The ongoing run of form has seen the club lose just one of their last seven Premier League games. A mentality like that can’t be bought. And Southampton haven’t really been a buying club either.
During this period, Ralph Hasenhuttl has gone from being on the verge of the sack to being one of the best managers in the division. Things have started to come to fruition for the Austrian, who has already spent more than one year at the St. Mary’s. And a lot of the club’s form is down to Hasenhuttl’s consistency in shape and style.
His 4-2-2-2 shape- the one he so constantly used at RB Leipzig, has finally settled in. Using that system with high-pressing involved, the club has created an XG of 19.69 and has been overperforming on it by 0.9. The XG90 with that system stands at 1.71- the highest out of all the shapes they’ve used.
After about 13 months of being there, Hasenhuttl has finally given the club a lost identity. Under Mark Hughes, the club had no system or a specific shape. The Welshman had used just about every formation possible in the modern game before he got the sack around the end of 2018. That had led to multiple players underperforming- remarkably Mohamed Elyounoussi.
While the Norwegian is now thriving at Celtic himself, but so are his Saints teammates. And with time, Hasenhuttl’s style is bringing the best out of many players in the current side.
While the obvious names do come out in the open- those like Danny Ings, who has a tally of 14 goals in the Premier League so far. James Ward-Prowse will also get credit. But names like Pierre Emile-Hojbjerg and Stuart Armstrong don’t get as much credit. Both have found their roles in the system and are contributing thoroughly.
A former Hoops player himself, Armstrong has stepped up a gear in recent games. He got goals against Crystal Palace and Leicester, impressing against Chelsea. Playing as the right-sided midfielder, the Scot has been influential in carrying the ball forward with a thrust.
As for Hojbjerg, the Dane has been crucial in winning the ball back and recycling it forward. He has made 57 tackles in total, making 34 interceptions for the club.
Ward-Prowse, 25, has been key too. The Englishman has, as always, been a threat from set-pieces. He has played 1.5 key passes per game, scoring four goals and getting two assists. While Hojbjerg has been the ball-winner, Ward-Prowse has been the creator.
There seem to be specific roles for players. There is a settled backline, with Jan Bednarek and Jack Stephens the regulars too. Everyone knows what they are doing and they are doing a very good job at it. There is the sort of certainty that hadn’t been seen before the Austrian came to the club.
Hasenhuttl has admitted that the attitude of the players has changed after the 9-0 loss. He told reporters: “This is the big difference to the beginning of the season or to our very difficult October where we lost without passion and without front foot defending.
“We lost our way a little bit, but what has happened since then has been amazing for me because of the reaction of all the staff and players to show up and show that we can do much better. At the moment we are playing like a very good team, and it’s enjoyable to watch them playing.”
And certainly, a lot of it is mental more than tactical. It takes a lot to come back from the humiliation. It destroys any sort of confidence at the club and it is rock-bottom. But tactically and mentally, this group of players and the manager has risen from the ashes. That is a huge achievement in itself.