This season, after the 9-0 drubbing of Leicester City at St Mary’s stadium, Hasenhuttl has had a somewhat miraculous turnaround. The Austrian returned to his favoured 4-2-2-2 pressing formation, which led him to a Champions League finish with RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga. Since then the Saints haven’t looked back, picking up a 2-0 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and a 1-0 win at home against Tottenham. Their current run of form has seen them pick up 23 points from their last 15 games, which has lifted them from 18th, 3 points away from safety, up to 13th and seven points above the drop.
How good is Hasenhuttl?
The quality of football that Southampton are playing on this current run is also impressive, the attacking nature is what Hasenhuttl promised the fans on his first interview with the club. To be playing with the freedom and the confidence that the Saints are playing with is extraordinary considering the team have been relegation-threatened for almost 3 years now.
For Hasenhuttl to be in contention of achieving a top-half finish, what Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman did with Southampton with much stronger squads, gives true credit to the Austrian, as it was expected he would get the sack after the 9-0 performance. A lot of credit must also go to the Southampton board for not panicking and placing their faith in the Austrian, many clubs would’ve panicked, as shown with teams like Watford sacking two managers already this season.
The football they are playing is just as good, if not better as under their most successful managers which had the likes of Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane, Virgil Van Dijk amongst the squad - and that’s only naming a few. A much more impressive squad compared to what Southampton have available to them now. Van Dijk is now considered by many to be the best centre-back in the world, and it seems the Saints are finally recovering from losing the Dutch captain.
Danny Ings has played a pivotal part in Hasenhuttl’s revival of the Saints. The striker has put himself back into contention for a call-up for England, ahead of the European Championships in the summer. The former Liverpool striker has bagged himself 14 league goals this season, more than Harry Kane, Tammy Abraham and Mane, in a struggling Southampton side for most of the season.
Ings has struggled with fitness concerns over the years, which held his career back heavily, especially at Liverpool, but with the intense pressing style that Hasenhuttl has used on the south-coast, Ings has managed to feature in every league game this season.
This form has led to Ings be compared with Timo Werner, who was Hasenhuttl's key striker at Leipzig. The Austrian has used the strikers in the same way. It is clear with the Southampton manager’s style of play that the key is knowing when to press and who triggers the press, this is usually Ings.
When the press is triggered, they tend to hunt in a pack of four and crowd the opposition out and whilst defending it can change to a 4-5-1. Hasenhuttl tends to like brave defenders, who can step in and stop the danger, when they see fit to do so. Hassenhuttl has found this in Jack Stephens, who was hit a ripe run of form after having very inconsistent performances under previous managers.
Stephens was once thought to be the natural replacement for Van Dijk at St Mary’s and is possibly in the best form of his life under Hasenhuttl. His ball-playing nature is his strongest asset, in what is a weak Southampton defence, with the backups being Kevin Danso and Jannick Vestergaard, who all seem out of Hasenhuttl's plans. It is key for the two Southampton centre-backs, Stephens and Jan Bednarek, to keep up their fine run of form.
It will be hard for Southampton to not get too carried away as they’ve proven all it takes is a good run of form to bring other teams into the relegation occasion. The gap is so close at the bottom and Watford hitting a great run of form has also brought the likes of Aston Villa, Bournemouth and West Ham into the equation.