Today’s announcement of Ralph Hasenhüttl as Saints’ new manager brings with it a huge wave of optimism. Back in October when discussing potential replacements for Mark Hughes, I earmarked the Austrian as my preferred choice - wildly unrealistic I thought, but certainly one to bring the good times back to St Mary’s. For the first time since Ronald Koeman’s departure in 2016, we have an appointment to excite and unite the fan-base; perhaps a return to ‘The Southampton Way’ at long last?
Kelvin Davis’ influence will be critical in the short term - he knows the club, the players and will be in the hot-seat for tonight’s free-hit against Spurs at Wembley. Hasenhüttl doesn’t have the virtue of an international break on the horizon - indeed the fixtures come thick and fast in the build up to Christmas - so he’ll have to adapt quickly to the demands of the Premier League. Beginning his tenure with a crucial trip to Cardiff City will be far from easy so he’ll need his players to rise to the occasion.
The appointment of a new manager is sure to force the board to reevaluate their claims that, “At the moment [they] don’t plan to be active in January”. It was an expensive decision to show Hughes the door and maybe even more so to bring in Hasenhüttl; we must support him by allowing him to sign players suited to his system.
How can Hasenhüttl make the most of the resources currently available to him? The Austrian enjoys giving opportunities to young players and recent weeks have shown us there is still talent in the club’s vaunted youth set-up.
Michael Obafemi and Yan Valery are raw, but certainly deserve continued opportunities. I expect Shane Long to return to the fold, the Irishman’s game being superbly suited to the pressing game his manager demands. Nathan Redmond too seems ideal for the new system, his direct running has been a menace this season and Saints fans will hope to see more of the same in the coming months.
Defence remains a huge issue at the club. The underwhelming performances of Saints’ fullbacks will need to be addressed as great emphasis is placed on their role in the counter-attack in Hasenhüttl’s system. The porosity of Southampton’s defence at the moment is a huge worry with individual errors littering each and every performance. It’s imperative that this issue is addressed in the summer. Jannik Vestergaard, much to my disappointment, looks a fraction of the £18m ‘Great Dane’ we signed in the summer.
The board have learnt from last season’s mistakes and quickly pulled the plug once Hughes’ shortcomings came to the fore. One man won’t change everything, but this appointment is an excellent one for the club; now the players need to stand up and be counted.