SOUTHAMPTON — The euphoria around Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s first few weeks at Southampton did seem a little over the top.
And their 2-1 defeat at home against West Ham proved that there is still plenty of work to do if Saints are going to drag themselves further away from the relegation zone.
Despite his team going 1-0 up in the second half, Saints were well below par throughout their festive clash against an injury-hit Hammers side who were missing 10 regulars for the trip to St Mary’s. Nathan Redmond bundled Saints ahead controversially, but real quality from Felipe Anderson saw the Brazilian scored twice in six minutes to lead the Hammers to a deserved victory.
Speaking after the game, Hasenhuttl repeated his famous saying: “We don’t lose a game, either we win or we learn. And today was a big lesson.”
The biggest lesson of all was that his players were tired after they dug deep to secure back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time since May 2016.
“I think we didn’t have our best evening. Too many players didn’t perform how they did the last week or the week before, and although we didn’t we had a chance to win which is the good thing,” Hasenhuttl said. “You see what I tell my players, that this is the Premier League and if you make easy mistakes like we did on the second goal then you don’t deserve to win. First goal you can defend better. It was too easy how we gave our 1-0 lead away.”
The second goal was a rapid West Ham counter after a corner for Southampton was cleared, although it looked as though Jan Bednarek was clearly hauled to the floor by Declan Rice and Saints should have had a penalty kick. Hasenhuttl said VAR would have helped, but in truth his team deserved nothing against West Ham.
One thing that Saints keep doing this season is giving leads away and it will take the Austrian manager quite some time to kick that habit. They have now dropped a Premier League high 15 points from winning positions this season, and 12 of those have been dropped at home.
Saints had beaten Arsenal 3-2 and Huddersfield Town 3-1 heading into the West Ham game, but Hasenhuttl’s notoriously strenuous training sessions seem to have taken their toll during the busy festive period. His team gave the ball away cheaply time and time again and just didn’t have the energy to win it back high up the pitch.
“It was intense the last few games. We came out of position where we changed a lot. It was an intense time,” Hasenhuttl said. “I was expecting a time where you feel the freshness has gone, and the speed slows down. Today we made not so many deep runs. We made a lot of time the decision to play back. That was very different to the games before. Against a team which is so physically strong like West Ham, you don’t have time to play back. If you want to create chances, like we did a few times, you see when we play quick in the deep and we have deep runs, we create chances. When we turn back and wait until they are in their shape and balance, it is very, very difficult to score goals and make chances.”
“The last two wins helped us a lot to feel confident and feel that we just ran a lot but we didn’t feel it. Today you see after the 1-2, it was getting difficult every time. What you see is that the guys are trying until the end, they are trying to spring. Trying to attack. Trying to press. But you felt it was one step too late and when we had the ball the decisions were a little bit slower. It is always about turning forward and playing forward. And we played a lot of sides in the back, something like old behaviors we have seen today. I don’t want to see that in my game. From one day to the other, you cannot turn it completely off this behavior if you get tired, you get slow in your mind, you fall back into these old manners. We will try to give us the next step again. It is everything about showing them, learning video and watching and next time learn from the mistakes you made.”
Saints now face Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton and Leicester City in their next four games and all of a sudden they could be right in the thick of the relegation battle. Hasenhuttl admitted he would rotate his squad in the coming games, and is delighted to have captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg back from suspension and disappointed that teenage striker Michael Obafemi is out for a few weeks with a hamstring injury. It is quite clear he’d also like to add new players in January that suit his style of play better.
Yet with Saints old habit of coughing up leads kicking in, Hasenhuttl isn’t scared of what lies ahead. He knows the South Coast club aren’t anyway close to being out of choppy waters at the wrong end of the PL table.
“I am not worried but I know in the Premier League if not everything works in the right direction then it is easy to lose games,” Hasenhuttl said. “That is what we have seen today. But we also showed in the last week that we can also be the team which sets the power in the last 15 minutes like we did against Arsenal or against Huddersfield. I am not afraid about what will follow in the next few weeks. We knew we have a very good tough schedule in the next few weeks. That is the Premier League. We know it is a long journey until the end of the season and to save us in this division it will take all of the games we have. I guarantee that we work very hard until the end and then we will see what we will get.”