Appointing Ralph Hasenhuttl as the club’s new first team manager earlier this week, Southampton have made an incredibly bold play to avoid relegation this season. After all, while Hasenhuttl has a great managerial track record, this is the Austrian’s first job outside of Germany. Making matters even tougher is the current state of the Southampton squad.
Sitting firmly inside the relegation zone at this point in the campaign with just one win from 15 matches, Southampton have quite a bit of work to do. That said, Hasenhuttl is an appointment that should thrill supporters. Playing an extremely active high press style similar to that of Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman, Saints look set to conclude the remainder of the campaign with a bang.
The first order of business for Hasenhuttl will be establishing a regular first team squad. While Mark Hughes attempted to do this throughout his short reign with the club, the Welshman never managed to settle on a style of play let alone a consistent squad. With Hasenhuttl already knowing how his team will play, the Austrian finds himself a major step ahead already.
As far as the first team goes, I expect to see a combination of familiar and new faces within the everyday starting XI. Needing a side to possess both pace and determination when on and off the ball, Southampton’s players will be in for some big changes. Changes that may just do enough to save this Saints squad from relegation.
Goalkeeper and Back Four
While there are some major changes afoot for the South Coast club, one change I do not expect to happen is at goalkeeper. Playing extremely well since his first team debut midway through last season, Alex McCarthy has established himself as one of the best keepers in the Premier League. A result that has even put him in contention for England’s National Team.
Ahead of him however, I do expect to see a major rotation in the upcoming matches. While Cedric should retain his position in the starting XI for now, I expect to see some rotation going forward. Even once Ryan Bertrand recovers from his current injury, look for Hasenhuttl to get both Matt Targett and Yan Valery on the pitch this season thanks to their pace.
In the heart of the back four though, Hasenhuttl could settle for a rotation by demand early in his tenure. With Jannik Vestergaard, Wesley Hoedt, Jack Stephens, Maya Yoshida, and Jan Bednarek all in line to earn some game time, expect this position to be a revolving door based on consistency and form. That said, I would not be shocked if Stephens, Vestergaard, and Bednarek quickly become the preferred starters and sub at some point.
Unlike the back four, Saints midfield under Hasenhuttl should look somewhat similar to how it looked under Mark Hughes. Likely to employ two holding central midfielders as well as two wider attacking midfielders, Southampton will find themselves in a 4-2-2-2 formation most nights.
In the center of the pitch, both Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Mario Lemina should retain their roles in the starting XI. Both possess pace and determination on and off the ball and look to be perfectly setup for Hasenhuttl’s preferred system. Of course, Steven Davis and Oriol Romeu could also see playing time this season but I expect both veteran players to remain as preferred subs.
Along the boundaries, look for Nathan Redmond and Stuart Armstrong to retain their positions in the starting XI. Both are pacy and can press the action when off the ball making both players perfectly options for Hasenhuttl. Of course, summer signing Mohamed Elyounoussi should also see action this season as his style of play also fits into this new system.
Looking both at the bench and into the future, James Ward-Prowse remains an intriguing option due to his dead-ball ability while the extremely quick Josh Sims should eventually find a way to feature once he returns from his loan-spell with Reading.
The area of the squad likely to see the most change under the Austrian manager, I expect to see the play of the forwards undergo some major adjustments. For example, gone are the days of forwards just roaming when off the ball. Under Hasenhuttl, these attacking players will need to constantly apply pressure to the opposing backline.
Because of this change, both Charlie Austin and Manolo Gabbiadini look set for spells on the bench. On the other hand, Danny Ings, Shane Long, and Michael Obafemi are certain to see many minutes inside the Southampton first team. With all three players possessing the pace and ability to hunt down defenders and force errors, Ings, Long, and Obafemi should become Hasenhuttl’s favored attacking options.
Of course, this is not to say that both Gabbiadini and Austin can’t eventually force their way back into the starting XI. Both players are natural goalscorers after all. But considering their natural relaxed style when off the ball, they are unlikely to impress early on in Hasenhuttl’s system.
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