When Ralph Hasenhüttl took over at Southampton in December 2018, there was a sense of curiosity, coupled with cautious optimism, as to how the former RB Leipzig manager would reinvent the Saints. His aggressive, gegenpressing style saw him dubbed the “Alpine Klopp”, and Southampton fans were eager to see how he would reinvigorate a team that had gone stale.
In his time on the South Coast, there have been plenty of positives to pick out. When he took over from Mark Hughes, the team were in the relegation zone, one points from safety. Bet exchange punters weren’t optimistic about their chances, but Hasenhüttl kept them up, guiding the team to 16th. He’s shown tactical flexibility at times, switching formations throughout his tenure, his team regularly changes between a back three and a back four.
There have also been negatives though. In October 2019, his side lost 9-0 at home to Leicester, setting the record for the worst home defeat in the history of the league. The Saints started the season poorly and were in the relegation zone in November, before showing better form in the second half of the season. Southampton finished the season in 11th, their best finish in three seasons.
Hasenhüttl won the Premier League Manager of the Month award for July 2020, and they continued that form into the 2020-21 season. However, their form began to taper off in the second half of the season, and the team once again found themselves on the wrong end of a 9-0 scoreline, this time away to Manchester United. A disappointing end to the season saw the team finish 15th.
After a few years in charge, many are wondering how much progress the club has made under the Austrian manager. The team has maintained Premier League safety, but anything more than a lower-mid-table finish looks unlikely. The Hasenhüttl project feels very much like it has lost momentum, and a club which used to be heralded by most as forward-thinking and dynamic has begun to feel stale.
The decision makers at the club have attempted a refresh of the playing staff, no doubt to try and freshen things up at the club.
Fraser Forster’s departure sees promising young goalkeeper Gavin Bazanu join on a five-year deal from Manchester City. Although still young, Bazanu is an Ireland international and is highly regarded by many in the game.
He’s been joined by Armel Bella-Kotchap, a front-footed centre back signed from Bochum, and tenacious midfielder Roméo Lavia from Manchester City. Kotchap is only 20 years old, but is already experienced for his age, while Lavia, at 18, is another touted for big things.
The versatile Joe Aribo has also joined and, at 25 years of age, will add both experience and quality to the side. Forward Sékou Mara is the most recent addition. Aside from offering a decent goal threat, Mara is a hard-working forward who can be trusted to lead the press from the front.
There are a number of common themes in Southampton’s recent signings. They’ve picked up players with good age profiles, all bar Aribo being in their teens or early twenties. In addition, they’re proactive, energetic players, with the athleticism and aggression needed to fit into a Hasenhüttl side.
Their youth and energy should help reinvigorate the side, and it’s clear that the Hasenhüttl project is being restarted on the South Coast with an injection of young blood into the side. Saints fans will be hoping it pays off, as will the Austrian manager. With his side struggling to break into mid-table in recent years, this could be just the boost that his team needs to kick on.