On the surface level, Southampton’s surge in the Premier League table could look like a consequence of the circumstances. No European football and a lot of rest between matches means that after 14 matches they are in the field for a place in the top six.
There is much more to it. Southampton’s strong start to this unorthodox season is the first growth spurt after an off-field restructuring that promises to flourish even more over time.
Since February, following Matt Crocker’s return to the Football Association club as Director of Football, coach Ralph Hasenhuttl has been overseeing the application of what has come to be known as “The Southampton Playbook”.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s ‘Southampton Playbook’ Inspired Their Rise
Southampton are sixth, three points behind the second and have impressed throughout the season
The job is also due to the return of Matt Crocker (left) who is the club’s director of football
He has seen a number of fascinating things happen in Southampton. For starters, the youth teams now play the same style of football as Hasenhuttl’s first team to ensure a smoother progression in the senior setup.
In September, Southampton announced an academy overhaul with their Under-23 squad becoming a B-team. Their training schedule is set to differ from that of the seniors, allowing Hasenhuttl and his staff time to watch. players in action and even participate, so that the manager can then choose who he wants to join the first team.
“We tried to do more like a second first team,” Crocker said. “The style of play of the first team is very different from what it was before.
“There was a real need to talk to Ralph that we were preparing the players in a different way so that when they step in and train or play with the first team they do so with more confidence and understanding. sessions. they participate.
In turn, Southampton will send fewer players on loan for a first-team experience. They will cut their teeth in the senior squad, as long as Hasenhuttl supports them to step up.
“The stats tell us, overall, that players go through our academy, train with the first team, join the first team team, and then play for the first team,” Crocker told The Athletic. earlier this year. “Very rarely we have had successful players who were loaned out and then returned. We have moved away from the loan system. The B team will be our best asset.
The withdrawal of the loan comes close to another major aspect of the “Southampton Playbook” which has seen Hasenhuttl identify his first team as being essentially made up of six field positions for his 4-2-2-2 formation; goalkeeper, full-back, center-back, defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder and attacker.
And in this setup, the players have improved considerably. Oriol Romeu thrived in the defensive midfield while James Ward Prowse added an extra level of dynamism to his game in the final third.
The Southampton team has been honed to match the style overseen by Hasenhuttl
James Ward-Prowse has thrived in midfield this season and has taken on the captain position
Kyle Walker-Peters, signed from Tottenham after a loan spell last season, has filled up perfectly at right-back while Che Adams finds his marks in attack after a rocky start to life in the Premier League – he did failed to score in his first 28 appearances for Southampton.
There will be a greater burden on Adams during the Christmas season. Star forward Danny Ings, who has scored six goals in 12 games so far this season, faces another fate on the sidelines with a hamstring problem.
It should also be recognized that Southampton’s improvement this season comes with the loss of captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to Tottenham. He has been instrumental in Tottenham’s rise to power under Jose Mourinho this season, and that also reflects the loss he suffered at Southampton.
After Saturday’s slim 1-0 loss to Manchester City, Southampton are sixth in the Premier League table but are just three points off second place. They face Fulham, West Ham and Liverpool over the holiday season, a series of games that serve as a springboard for their goals ahead in the second half of the season.
Southampton’s improvement comes from the loss of key man Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg
This season represents Hasenhuttl’s first real split in the Premier League with a Southampton side starting to forge in his image.
He’s tweaked his squad and upgraded his players so that they are able to beef up his high octane pressing style and with the academy reading the same page, the bridge to the first team that unearthed the likes of Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale has been rebuilt.
The Austrian is certainly here for the long haul.
“I think that’s the perfect fit,” director Martin Semmens told The Daily Echo when Hasenhuttl signed a new four-year deal in June.
“I don’t know if it’s us who need him or if he needs us. Ralph’s mentality is above all to have a project.
Theo Walcott signing was crafty by Southampton – but not sentimental
And on the training ground, as detailed as Hasenhuttl’s methods are, he conveys his message clearly and precisely. Walcott was in love with the plans Hasenhuttl shared with him when they discussed a loan from Everton.
For the Southampton boss, Walcott’s return to St Mary’s was completely devoid of sentimentality; the striker had specific attributes which could contribute to the development of Southampton.
That said, he’s surprised at how quickly Walcott has adjusted.
Speaking after the 2-0 victory over Newcastle in September, a victory which temporarily put Southampton at the top of the table, Hasenhuttl said: “I am very happy – I can say surprised – that he learned so quickly what we do here.
“It’s the right thing for me. He seems to be a tactically experienced guy.
Hasenhuttl admitted he was surprised at how quickly Walcott adjusted to his side
Previously, years ago under Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman, a yardstick for Southampton’s progress in the Premier League was to compare their position to when they were in League One, or the Championship.
Now it’s worth remembering that this is roughly over two years after Mark Hughes was fired as manager – a date that assumed how lost they got on and off the pitch.
Their squad was a mishmash of players signed by Hughes and his predecessors Claude Puel and Mauricio Pellegrino. Now is a new era for Southampton in the Premier League – a team that is capable of maintaining a place in the top eight, at the very least, in the table.
The next chapters in their story will be fascinating to watch unfold and all signs point to them being positive.