Southampton survived a relegation scare in the 2018/19 campaign and the mid-season appointment of Austrian manager Ralph Hasenhüttl surged the Saints away from trouble.
Under the leadership of Mark Hughes, Southampton amassed just nine points from 14 league matches and were in desperate trouble – which inevitably saw the Welsh manager sacked in December and replaced by the former RB Leipzig manager.
Hasenhüttl arrived with his own philosophy and beliefs – a 3-2 win against Arsenal 11 days after his appointment exemplified that. The high-pressing tactics and improved energy levels were apparent from the off. The Austrian achieved Champions League qualification with RB Leipzig in 2016-17 – congregating a group of players who bought into his high-intensity, pressing system – and ushered the exact same approach to Southampton.
Fans were fearing the worst for extensive periods of the 2018/19 season, but they retained their Premier League status by finishing 16th – five points clear of trouble. However, the Hasenhüttl transition is in full swing and he is being backed in the summer transfer window ahead of next season.
A summer spending spree of £48m has seen three new faces arrive at Southampton so far, all bolstering their attacking options to suit the manager’s style of play. Moussa Djenepo was first to arrive at St Mary’s. The 21-year-old winger joined for £14m and looks a promising talent – netting seven times and registering three assists in 25 Jupiler Pro league appearances last season.
The next to sign was another young prospect in Che Adams – signing from Birmingham City for £15m. The 22-year-old striker will bring pace and instinctive goalscoring ability to the south-coast – scoring 22 goals and chipping in with five assists for Birmingham last season.
The lack of firepower was a troublesome factor last season and has been addressed by Hasenhüttl, emphasised by the permanent signing of Danny Ings for £19m following his loan spell with the club. The England striker has proven his worth in the Premier League and if he can steer clear of injuries, he will bag for fun in an attacking line-up.
Hasenhüttl’s success for RB Leipzig came from his 4-2-2-2 tactical approach. With his signings so far, the Austrian is slowly developing and transitioning the squad into a position where he can deploy this tactic and deploy it successfully. With financial backing, he is starting to piece together what he needs, which should excite the Saints fans.
Pep Guardiola arrived in England and was criticised for installing his own beliefs and philosophy into the Manchester City squad. They struggled in his first season and pundits questioned whether his style of football would suit the Premier League – two seasons later and we are witnessing one of the greatest Premier League outfits of all time, which emphasises how important it is to give Hasenhüttl time and financial backing to transform the identity of Southampton and change the ambitions and targets for the club.
Next season will be a good indication of where the Saints are in terms of quality in comparison to the other 19 Premier League outfits. Despite an extremely disappointing campaign last time out, Southampton have an excellent platform to push on from here. Hasenhüttl’s attacking approach has brought a fresh look to the south coast and it is imperative that he recruits players this summer who suit his style of football – so far it looks as though he has done that. However, defensively there are still huge question marks – conceding 65 league goals last season is an indication of that.
If the Saints do not improve their back line this summer, they are entertaining the idea of high-scoring matches whenever they play next season. Hasenhüttl will not change his approach of high-intensity pressing and attacking, expansive football and if the squad believe and buy into this, there is no reason they cannot achieve a mid-table finish at the very least – merely surviving should not be the target for the 2019/20 campaign.