How have Southampton gone from a mid-table side to a potential European spot?

06 Jan 2021 03:39 pm, by YorkshireSquare

Ahead of our game against Southampton in two weeks we look at how they have gone from gone mid-table to a potential European spot in the space of a year. Whilst the rest of the nation were on their knees on Monday night due to prime minster Boris Johnson revealing yet another nationwide lockdown, at St. Mary’s Stadium on the south coast of England, Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhüttl was on his knees because his side had just got one over on the reigning Premier League champions.

A well-worked free-kick from Saints captain James Ward-Prowse picked out striker Danny Ings inside the box and his fantastic effort looped over Alisson and into the back of the net. That was just over one minute into the game and, from there on in, it was Liverpool dominance, but Jürgen Klopp’s side couldn’t break down Southampton, in fact, they didn’t even register a shot on target until the 89th minute.

When Andre Marriner blew the final whistle, Hasenhüttl fell to his knees inside his dugout, clearly overwhelmed by what his side had just achieved. And whilst Liverpool had a makeshift centre-back partnership of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, who usually pair up in the centre of midfield, credit where credit is due for the Saints, who were missing a fair few of their regulars as well.

This time last year, Southampton were 12th in the table and they would go on to finish just one place better off in 11th. However, in this compact season, where things are still so congested even at this midway stage, Hasenhüttl’s side are pushing for a European spot.

They are one of four teams currently on 29 points, meaning they are just three points behind Leicester City in third and just four points behind leaders Liverpool and Manchester United. Of course, that could all change given the fact that there are several sides with games in hand and so on, but we won’t go into the ifs, buts and maybes right now.

They may not be fancied to actually land a European football spot come the end of the season in the football betting odds, but they have still come a long way under the guidance of Hasenhüttl. This is a team that were beaten 9-0 just last season by Leicester, but they stuck by the Austrian, who learnt the ways of the managerial trade alongside Klopp, and that has paid off.

The Saints have proven hard to beat this season, and with just four defeats in their first 17 games, and only 19 goals conceded, they boast one of the best defensive records in the league. That is a far cry from where they were at this point last season. By mid-December, the Saints had already lost 10 times in the league, with just four wins to their name.

Of course, the aforementioned Ings is a key part to Southampton’s success. His consistent ability to score goals is pivotal for the side, but whilst the team has been so reliant on the former Reds striker in the past, this season, others have stepped up to the mark more as well.

Look at Ché Adams for example. Last season the 24-year-old largely failed to make the leap from the Championship to the top tier of English football, nearly signing for Leeds in the January transfer window. However, this campaign, he has already matched his goals tally from the 2019-20 season (4) and doubled up on assists (4). Skipper Ward-Prowse is also having one of his best seasons in the top-flight, with four goals and as many assists.

Defensively, the Saints are one of the most aggressive sides in the league. Their work rate is phenomenal, and they make an almighty 19.6 tackles per game, whilst nobody in the league has made more successful tackles than midfielder Oriol Romeu.

It will be interesting to see how Southampton build on this victory when the Premier League resumes after the third round of the FA Cup. They face Leicester, Leeds, Arsenal and Aston Villa before the end of January, but they will be confident should Alex McCarthy, Jannik Vestergaard, Romeu, and Adams all return in the coming days/weeks.

One thing’s for sure, Hasenhüttl will need to work on his side’s consistency if they want to challenge for a European spot. Before the victory over Liverpool, they hadn’t won in four outings, and that included draws at home to West Ham and away to relegation threatened Fulham, which you could argue they should have won.