It is always interesting how a result or two can define a player or manager’s career. There are entire football teams that are defined by just one result and it is an extremely reactionary and unfair situation as football is a sport that can be judged that way. And the current situation with Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl is a prime example of that, with his legacy at St. Mary’s most likely being two awful 9-0 defeats. But there is a lot more to understand about the current boss of the Saints.
Manchester United beat Southampton 9-0 this week. It was an awful result for the Saints and an awful reminder of the 9-0 defeat they had to endure against Leicester City last season. Ralph Hasenhüttl has become the first Premier League manager to lose two games by that result and unless a massive overachievement, there is a very good chance that he is going to be remembered for those results. And I think that is very unfair.
The Austrian manager joined Southampton back in the middle of the 2018/19 season, but he didn’t implement his signature playing style until the middle of last season, specifically after losing 9-0 against Leicester. He threw away the 5-3-2 formation they were using and started to rely on his trusted 4-2-2-2 system that made him so successful at RB Leipzig.
Often compared to Jürgen Klopp, you can understand the comparison when you see the great year the Saints had in 2020, both in terms of performances and results: Southampton were not only getting a lot of positive results, but they were also playing intense, fast-paced and dynamic football, which is a trademark of a Hasenhüttl team, becoming one of the most exciting clubs in the league.
In terms of pressing, they have been one of the top three teams in that category in the last year or so and their set pieces are some of the strongest in Europe, led by the wonderful talents of James Ward-Prowse. It is a very compact and efficient, which is not as filled with talent as other Southampton squads in recent years.
And yet, the 9-0 defeats would probably be Hasenhüttl’s legacy simply because they got the most attention in the press and social media, which is doing the man a disservice. The 9-0 defeat against United came at the back of weeks of exhaustion and losing four or five key players plus getting a man sent off in the first minute of the game. It was an awful performance by Southampton, of course, but one where context is extremely important to consider.
Ralph Hasenhüttl has done a remarkable job with very little at St. Mary’s and he deserves a chance at a bigger club come the end of the season. And 9-0 defeats notwithstanding, his legacy at Southampton should be greater than that.