Ralph Hasenhuttl

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.”

Hasenhuttl enraged after Southampton loss to Cardiff City

Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images
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Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl was fuming after Saints threw away the point it looked to have won in stoppage time versus Cardiff City on Saturday.

“We did it last week and the same again today,” Hasenhuttl said. “If we don’t stop this then we’ve no chance of staying in the league.”

[ MORE: Recap | Cardiff remembers Sala ]

Saints will finish the weekend in the relegation zone if Burnley gets a point or better at Brighton and Hove Albion (the Clarets have an early 1-0 lead), and Hasenhuttl says the Bottom Three will be their fate without improved resolve.

On Feb. 2, it was a penalty in stoppage time that allowed Burnley to draw Southampton 1-1. Groundhog Day in reverse.

This week, Jack Stephens scored in the first minute of stoppage time only to see Cardiff City’s Kenneth Zohore score in the third minute of stoppage to claim all three points.

“It can feel like a win if you take a draw like that, and then you give it away in a way. That’s stupid and unbelievable for me.”

Cardiff has climbed ahead of Southampton as well, and Saints next face Arsenal, Fulham, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur. There’s four points in there if Hasenhuttl’s men are very fortunate. Zero might just end it.

Hasenhuttl “unbelievably proud” of Southampton’s warriors

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Ralph Hasenhuttl hailed his 10-man Southampton side for digging deep to win away at Leicester City and drag themselves out of the relegation zone. 

Saints were 2-0 up at half time but had Yan Valery sent off in the 45th minute, putting them up against it in the second half. Leicester had 85 percent possession and 19 attempts at goal in the second period, but scored just once as Saints put in a valiant defensive display to secure a huge three points.

Speaking after the game, Hasenhuttl praised the mentality of his players and suggested they rather enjoyed the challenge.

“The second half was getting in the same compact with the defense and to try to defend,” Hasenhuttl said. “This manner and mainly the passion and the mentality was the winner of this game today. I thought we got too early 2-1, so it would be a long time then to get something here. The players enjoyed it. They felt the way we defend it is very difficult for the opponents to score. The longer the game went on, the more stable we were.”

Hasenhuttl also told BBC’s Match of the Day that he is “unbelievably proud” of his players.

“To be manager of this team, it’s a fantastic job,” Hasenhuttl said. “Today they showed their quality. To go 2-0 in the lead at Leicester is not easy and we defended with fantastic commitment.”

This feels like a massive moment in Southampton’s season.

Saints have dropped more points from winning positions than any other team in the Premier League this season but their players stood up to the challenge and were calm despite being pegged back to 2-1 with over 30 minutes remaining. Jan Bednarek, Oriol Romeu, Long, Jannik Vestergaard and Jack Stephens were all impressive as they made sure Hasenhuttl will have a selection dilemma in the weeks to come.

They were without regulars Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Charlie Austin (both suspended), Danny Ings, Michael Obafemi, Mario Lemina, Ryan Bertrand (all injured) and Maya Yoshida (on international duty at the Asian Cup) and had eight players from their famed academy in their 18-man squad. Callum Slattery made his Premier League debut as a sub, while Sam Gallagher played his first minutes of the PL season late on as Hasenhuttl’s squad was stretched to the limit.

No matter who was out there Saints’ players showed they are fighting for their new manager, and Hasenhuttl has now won three of his first seven PL games as Southampton manager. That equals as many victories as Mark Hughes, the man he replaced, managed in 22 matches as Saints boss.

Hasenhuttl has momentum and Southampton now have a favorable run of games with Everton, Crystal Palace and Cardiff City at home, plus a trip to Burnley. The next few weeks are pivotal for their chances of not only staying in the Premier League but pushing themselves into midtable.

Premier League Preview: Southampton v. West Ham

Victoria Jones/PA via AP
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  • Saints, Irons have split last six meetings
  • 15 combined goals in last 4 head-to-head
  • West Ham leads all-time 41W-30D-34L

Two teams who watched the Boxing Day festivities on television now take center stage at St. Mary’s when Southampton hosts West Ham United on Thursday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Manuel Pellegrini‘s Irons are coming off a disappointing end to their four-match win streak, and probably deserved better than the weekend’s loss to Watford.

Meanwhile, Southampton has looked much better under new manager Ralph Hasenhuttl and can climb another spot by winning at home on Thursday.

West Ham can rise as high as ninth with a win, while Saints can leapfrog Newcastle into 15th.

What they’re saying

Saints boss Hasenhuttl on the refining the dynamic: “We had a very good video session after Huddersfield and looked at a few things from the game. There were a lot of good moments in our game, but also a few where we can defend better. You always have to improve your game and your automatisms and I think that was important to look at.”

West Ham’s in-form Robert Snodgrass on Boxing Day“My wife and my kids are used to it now and we will spend the time we get together smiling, opening presents and playing games like most families, and I’m certainly not the only person who had to go to work on Christmas Day. As a player, you want to play games, you want to kick on and you want to push forward. The way we’re playing this season, it’s a building process and we want to keep on creating chances and most weeks we’ll take them and get more points.”

Prediction

Goals for both sets of supporters, and a 1-1 draw at St. Mary’s.

Hasenhuttl praises ‘uncompromising’ Saints; Ings, Austin hail win

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To say that fiery Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl was happy to snag his first Premier League win was an understatement.

And perhaps Hasenhuttl was understated himself in celebrating Saints’ first goal of Sunday’s 3-2 win over Arsenal, but he made up for it on the other two markers and after the final whistle saw Southampton move out of the drop zone.

[ RECAP: Southampton 3-2 Arsenal ]

“It’s amazing what the team can do in a week,” Hasenhuttl said. “It was very intensive, we had time to work on the basics and built the fundamentals for our game. I’m very proud of how focused and uncompromising they were, and when they had the chances, how merciless they were.”

Match-winner Charlie Austin, whose winning goal came with just minutes to play, gives his new boss credit for the victory.

“It’s great,” Austin said. “The gaffer’s brought in new ideas and it’s not just changed things in the changing room but around the whole club.”

“A new manager comes in. The lads get a rocket and start expressing themselves.”

Striker Danny Ings scored twice in the win before Austin nabbed the winner. For Ings, it was his first brace since Nov. 2014 when he was with Burnley.

The hometown hero, once released from the club as a youth, is maintaining a steady gait in the face of a rare win.

“We knew those crosses would be dangerous, we’ve been working on them all week, and I was there to put them away.”

“As a club we know the position we’ve put ourselves, and with the squad we’ve got it’s not good enough,” Ings said. “But if we keep showing resilience and hard work we can turn it round. It shows we’re moving in the right direction already.”

Saints go to Huddersfield Town next in a crucial clash near the bottom of the table, and a visit from in-form West Ham follows the relegation six-pointer.