Mohamed Elyounoussi

Hasenhuttl masterminds Saints’ survival: Now it gets tough

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Southampton had one win on the board and nine points from their opening 15 games of the season.

They looked certain for relegation. Years of poor decisions in the transfer market had cost them dear. Fans took aim at the new owners and Director of Football Les Reed and Chairman Ralph Krueger (both of whom have left the club this season) for hiring and firing three managers in just over 12 months.

Then Ralph Hasenhuttl arrived for his first taste of English soccer and everything changed. Fans love his enthusiasm on the sidelines and his honesty in interviews created a Jurgen Klopp-esque bond. His first press conference set the tone perfectly. 

The talented but previously unenthused players have ran themselves into the ground and beat the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Wolves and Everton at home, results which were unthinkable earlier in the campaign.

Hasenhuttl’s clear vision led to gritty displays which saw Saints secure their status as a Premier League side on Saturday after their 3-3 draw with Bournemouth.

Now the really, really hard work starts if Saints are to return to being contenders for a top 10 finish rather than what they’ve now become, perennial relegation strugglers.

The former RB Leipzig head coach knows it.

“We will have a few players leaving. In every position we will try to get better next year,” Hasenhuttl said. “We had a very interesting last transfer period – no signings, just giving players away. This summer we will rebuild. We can start planning for next year tomorrow. A bit less stress would be nice [next season], sitting relaxed outside and taking the points we need. The target is to get 40 points earlier than this year.”

That planning for next season should start right now at Southampton.

The Austrian coach didn’t spend any money in the January transfer window, his only window since arriving at the club, and it is unlikely he will be able to spend that much this summer.

Saints are hamstrung by having expensive signings on long-term contracts who they can’t get rid of.

Similar to the likes of Aston Villa and Sunderland before them, who kept their heads just above water season after season before finally being relegated, Saints are stuck with a bloated squad who haven’t proved their worth.

Wesley Hoedt, Sofiane Boufal, Cedric and Guido Carrillo are all out on loan right now and are unlikely to return. Manolo Gabbiadini was sold to Sampdoria in January. Fraser Forster is one of their highest earners but hasn’t played since December 2017. Mohamed Elyounoussi has barely featured. The list goes on and on.

Quite simply, Hasenhuttl will have to live with the legacy of Saints getting it wrong in several transfer windows since Ronald Koeman left in the summer of 2016. Since that summer they’ve spent over $200 million in transfer fees alone, and although the sale of Virgil Van Dijk and others negate those fees, players are on very large wages for a club of Southampton’s size which is run to be sustainable. They should be in that group of teams just outside the top six, not battling against the drop.

Something drastic has to change, and Hasenhuttl is now the right man to lead these decisions as he’s rejuvenated many members of the current squad in just five months.

The best thing Saints can now do is let Hasenhuttl have the huge clear out they need. Deadwood needs to be chopped.

Whatever it costs, they need to take the financial hit and let players leave on loan or for good, and let Hasenhuttl start the 2019-20 campaign with a fresh, hungry squad. The way he has brought out the best in Nathan Redmond, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and James Ward-Prowse among others proves his skill in inspiring players he inherited.

Imagine if he could actually add a handful of players he wants…

This season has to be the wake-up call that Saints should have had last season when they survived relegation with one game to go. And that was largely down to Swansea’s slump rather than a good run of their own.

Saints’ academy is one of the best in the league and that is where a lot of their fresh talent can come from. Hasenhuttl has put faith in youth his entire managerial career and that hasn’t changed since he arrived in the Premier League, with Yan Valery, Michael Obafemi, Josh Sims and Ward-Prowse all becoming regulars under him. There are others waiting to break through too.

Hasenhuttl has been brave by cutting out more experienced players and he and Southampton have been rewarded for that.

Now Southampton, who don’t have a chairman or anyone in charge of the football side of the club long-term since Krueger left, must back Hasenhuttl. Krueger brought Hasenhuttl in, but the Austrian is happy to remain at the club and continue to push on, with a new leader or sporting director needed to get things right behind-the-scenes.

Saints can now start to focus on next season and they have Hasenhuttl to thank for that.

“We had to take a lot of points [after taking over in December]. If you told me after our first game against Cardiff, when we were five points behind them [that Southampton would stay up], it’s amazing,” Hasenhuttl said. “We deserve this. We invested a lot in this time and learned a lot. We showed how beautiful we can play. The next step must be to get more clinical in some situations. Two games before the end to be clear is fantastic for us.”

Kane stars as Spurs outclass Saints

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  • Goal, assist for Kane
  • Son, Lucas score
  • Saints’ Hasenhuttl watches from stands

Harry Kane led Tottenham Hotspur’s rebound from derby disappointment, and new Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl got a close-up view at the project in front of him as Spurs battered Saints 3-1 at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday.

Charlie Austin scored in stoppage time for Saints, who hit the woodwork thrice in the match.

Tottenham rises third with 33 points, while Saints are 18th with nine.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Spurs came out of the gates with a vengeance, and Kane had the Londoners ahead in the ninth minute when he converted a Christian Eriksen cross off a corner.

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg hit the post for Saints, and Alex McCarthy tipped a Heung-Min Son shot over the bar as both teams could’ve added to the score board.

Spurs got their second goal when Lucas was in the right place to lash his rebound home, and Son made it 3-0 off a Kane cross with more than a half-hour to play.

Oliver Skipp, 18, made his Premier League debut for Spurs in the final minutes of the match.

Mohamed Elyounoussi hit the post in stoppage time moments before Austin scored to get a deserved goal in front of their new boss.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Newcastle, Saints scorless at St. Mary’s

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  • Saints remain 16th
  • Long misses prime chance for winner
  • Winless Magpies move 19th

Chances were at a premium as Newcastle United and Southampton staged a proper relegation-style scrap at St. Mary’s on Saturday.

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Mohamed Elyounoussi was stifled on a fourth minute chance by Newcastle backstop Martin Dubravka, who would then concede a corner stopping a Charlie Austin strike.

The visitors, however, went on to hold plenty of the ball. Yoshinori Muto couldn’t turn a tough shot inside the near post, and Kenedy had a dangerous shot blocked inside the 18.

Danny Ings had two attempts in the 59th minute, with Federico Fernandez blocking the latter effort for a corner.

Noted Newcastle killer Shane Long missed a prime opportunity in the 90th, as Saints looked the better money to bag a winner but failed to find a way past Dubravka.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Hughes says Southampton struggling to grasp key moments

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Mark Hughes was left shaking his head again after Southampton slumped to a 2-0 defeat at Monlineux, and knows the team can earn results if they just grasp hold of games better.

With the Saints sitting 15th in the Premier League table on just five points, owning just a single win on the season, Hughes believes the team has to start earning results befitting of the 90-minute performances.

“As an away team, as an away performance, I thought it was a good performance,” Hughes said. “But, when you’re in games like that, you’ve got to get the key moments and details of the game right, and you’ve got to make sure you take something out of a game you’ve played a big part in and for long periods dominated. On too many occasions we’ve done ok in away games, but not got what we’ve deserved, and that was an example today.”

Wolves wasn’t exactly the better team over the course of the 90 minutes on Saturday, and Southampton owned a slight advantage in both possession (51%-49%) and shots (17-14 total, 6-6 on target). Mohamed Elyounoussi was dangerous at times, and Danny Ings came into the match in good goalscoring form.

It’s not the only time this season Southampton struggled late in games. They slumped to a 2-2 draw late against Brighton & Hove Albion after conceding a 2-0 lead, and coughed up a 1-0 lead to Leicester in a 2-1 loss.

“I think frustration is the key element of the dressing room,” Hughes said. “We were quite comfortable at half-time. We had the majority of the play, good possession, we kept the ball away from them well.”

“I think we’ve had more possession, more shots on goal, so it’s not as if we’ve sat back and waited for our fate to be decided. We’ve come here with good intention and a positive attitude, and I feel if we’d have scored first we would have won the game. But goals change games. They got the second while we were trying to get back on level terms, and that can happen, but disappointed in the manner we conceded.”

It won’t get any easier for Saints, who host Chelsea at St. Mary’s next weekend followed by a visit to 9th placed Bournemouth after the international break.

Wolves 2-0 Southampton: Championship winners up to 8th

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  • Wolves scored 2 goals in the final 12 minutes
  • Rui Patricio made 6 saves
  • Wolves up to 8th in the Premier League table

Wolverhampton may be newly promoted, but teams already know not to take last year’s Championship winners lightly. It still didn’t matter.

The home side didn’t exactly have the greatest performance, but they held Southampton at bay and made the Saints pay down the stretch as substitute Ivan Cavaleiro scored just two minutes after entering the match, and Jonny earned his first Premier League goal to put the game away late.

It wasn’t pretty at times, but Wolves weathered moments of Southampton pressure to stay the course and earn three more points at Monlineux. Ivan Cavaleiro scored the winner on his Premier League debut having come on just two minutes later.

Wolves proved dangerous early on, as Ruben Neves took a pair of free-kicks in threatening positions inside the opening 10 minutes, and the latter produced an open header for defender Matthew Doherty but he put it harmlessly wide left.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Again Wolves had a big chance on the 10-minute mark as Helder Costa completely roasted a defender and picked out a run down the left, and while the cross was deflected, it fell right to Jonny who found himself unmarked on the penalty spot, but Alex McCarthy produced a spectacular save to deny the effort.

The home side continued to hound the Southampton midfield, bursting forward on numerous occasions and forcing the Saints defenders to foul them in the attacking third. Finally, Southampton began to build itself into the game past the 25-minute mark, and Joao Moutinho was lucky to get away without a caution after a sliding tackle through the back of Mohamed Elyounoussi.

Elyounoussi beat Jonny on a right-sided run, and was found by Nathan Redmond, but Rui Patricio came off his line to smother the chance. Southampton continued to grow, and Danny Ings just missed the top-right corner with an audacious curler from a good distance out. Neves had a half-chance on the break but put his shot from distance well wide left.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Neither team had another serious effort on net before the half, and after the break, the home side was the first to take the initiative. A Moutinho run drew a yellow card for Ryan Bertrand blocking him off, while Diogo Jota earned himself one seconds later for chopping down Mario Lemina.

Southampton remained the more assertive side after the break, but they wouldn’t produce much on net, and would be made to pay. With 12 minutes remaining, Wolves went in front thanks to the persistence of substitute Adama Traore and the unselfishness of Raul Jiminez. Traore, signed this summer from Middlesborough, burst down the right and beat two defenders in style. He worked space for a cross that found Jiminez on the doorstep, but with his back to net he chose a layoff to substitute Ivan Cavaliero who powered a bullet into the back of the net for a debut goal.

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McCarthy was required to keep the deficit at just one, denying Jiminez a bullet header with a stunning save as he dove to his right with the post bearing down. Unfortunately for the visitors, that second would come to put the game away. Doherty got past Stuart Armstrong all too easy down the right, and from that point he poked to Jonny on the doorstep who slid the ball through the legs of McCarthy for the second. Armstrong’s defending was a mess, leaving Southampton wide open.

That would draw curtains on the match, leaving Wolves with a less than stellar performance but a win nonetheless, pushing the newly promoted club all the way to eighth in the Premier League table with 12 points on the young season. Southampton, meanwhile, moves up one spot to 15th despite the loss thanks to Fulham’s poor showing at Goodison Park.