It begs the question, do Southampton fans have the right to keep dreaming this season? Yes, here's why...
High-flying Saints climbed up to fourth in the table after an emphatic 3-0 win against struggling Sheffield United. Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side have started the season in scintillating fashion, becoming a real joy to watch week in, week out.
Southampton have earned 23 points in this Premier League season; only in 2014-15 have they had more after their opening 12 matches. The Saints have put out a statement with their fine run of form and look like serious contenders in a European charge.
Hasenhuttl’s men have struggled in the past to break teams down that opt to put 11 men behind the ball. However, this hasn’t been the case for the transformed side this season.
The side displayed a composed nature on the ball, finding pockets of space in between the Blades’ defensive lines. Stuart Armstrong and Theo Walcott demonstrated their importance within the system, constantly swaying inside into the number 10 position, creating the pockets of space to cause the back-line problems making them the cog in the machine for Hasenhuttl’s system, if you like.
The Saints’ attack had great fluidity, with every player knowing their role within the system. As the game went further on, you could see the confidence of the players oozing out into their build-up with the ball. This is further backed up with Southampton netting a total of 23 times this season, the third-most in the league. There was a clear swagger about the side today. Hasenhuttl stated to the press:
“It was very well done. It wasn’t as easy as it looked. They are a team who has nothing to lose and sit very deep- we used to struggle but now we have more solutions”
“There’s not many weaknesses in our game. It was fantastic how we are adapting to the changes in shape. This is significant in raising quality”
Southampton’s centre-back partnership shine again
Hasenhuttl’s side played scintillating football for the majority of the game, with everyone playing a role in the sensational performance. A significant factor to Southampton’s success has been the developing partnership at the back, consisting of Jan Bednarek and Jannik Vestergaard. The centre-halves have been nothing short exceptional this season, flourishing at the back again against the Blades.
The turnaround from the big Dane is one that the Saints faithful would not have expected. Hasenhuttl has been able to develop Vestergaard to achieve the heights Southampton supporters first thought he could reach.
After another dominant display at the back, £18 million spent on the 6ft 6in defender seems to look like a real steal. Vestergaard has become an invaluable asset to the side, thriving in Hasenhuttl’s system. The Austrian manager’s demands are incredibly high yet Vestergaard has met them in style. The defensive ace completed 100% of take-ons which has been integral to the build-up play, Vestergaard fits Hasenhuttl’s system to a tee. He also contributed by winning 100% of tackles, winning the most duels and aerial duels.
Dare I say it, Vestergaard is replicating the performances Virgil Van Dijk had during his tenure at St. Marys.
The rejuvenated defender is having quite the impact towards defensive partner Bednarek too. The Polish international completed more passes in the first half (46) than Sheffield United could manage as a team (44).
The pair have kept five clean sheets this campaign, the most out of any team in the Premier League. This developing partnership has proven to be a significant factor in Southampton’s tremendous start to the season.
Che Adams’ influence
Che Adams has started where he left off from the back end of last season. Southampton’s number 10 has been a sensation this season, netting four times and assisting three. The same amount he managed in the whole of last season.
Progression is clear to see, Adams has become a key player in Hasenhuttl’s plans moving forward. The Englishman’s performances last season was a shadow of what Adams is capable of achieving. The ability Southampton’s striker attains is clear to see, with every aspect of his game improving.
Hasenhuttl has given Adams the faith to push on and express himself on the pitch; that has been exactly what the striker has achieved. Adams plays more with a sense of freedom, dropping back and showcasing his extra string to his bow, his exquisite range of passing. As seen on multiple occasions this season, Adams attains incredible ability to find a runner in behind.
As well as his passing, his graft and persistence to hold the ball up is significantly important towards his side. This compliments his strike partner Danny Ings to a tee. A partnership coming into flourishion.
Southampton’s top scorer, Ings, is becoming quite the partner for Adams. Saints’ talisman has six goals in nine appearances as well as three assists to go with it. If the chemistry between the two strikers continues, Southampton could be in for a special season.
The manager knows the importance this partnership holds to the side and has not been short of praise to the press:
“It was necessary he (Adams) developed after a not so good first year. He always works hard and gets the benefit of it. It is not surprising for me.”
Kyle Walker-Peters is making a name for himself at Southampton
Something about watching Kyle Walker-Peters is so refreshing, a breath of fresh air. Walker-Peters has been a terrific acquisition and hasn’t looked out of place since his arrival in January 2020.
Yan Valery made a catalogue of errors from right-back coupled together with a sense of complacency, which often got punished. Southampton supporters were getting overly frustrated. The arrival of Walker-Peters has played a key role in the upwards spiral of the club in recent months. The way the English full-back glides effortlessly with the ball is a joy to watch, giving the supporters flashbacks from the days of Nathaniel Clyne under Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure.
The bright full-back offers great width in attack as well as being integral at the back, contributing hugely to the five clean sheets so far this season. At only the age of 23, the potential is through the roof.