Southampton 2020/21: Can Ralph Hasenhuttl take Saints to the next level?

After a strong end to last season for Southampton, can Ralph Hasenhuttl take the Saints to the next level in 2020/21?

Hasenhuttl's style of football has won plenty of admirers. He demands non-stop pressing, creativity from out wide, and a team focused on turning oppositions with quick counter-attacking football. It's a style that has seen Saints hit some impressive performance metrics at various points of last season but also almost took Hasenhuttl to the brink after a dramatic loss of form.

He was nearly dismissed after an embarrassing 9-0 thrashing by Leicester in October but a remarkable turnaround saw Saints finish strongly in 11th. That the Southampton hierarchy stood by their man and he rewarded that faith, suggests that an impressive structure within the club is in place - and one that bodes well for their 2020/21 prospects.

Where they're strong

The Premier League returned after a three-month suspension and some teams came back stronger than before, led by pressing kings Southampton, who saw a 71-per-cent improvement in points-per-game form to finish in 11th. Their aggression and ability to win the ball high up the pitch is what Hasenhuttl is all about.

Danny Ings was central to their success up top, winning 17 points from his 22 goals and topping the league for his 43.1 per cent share of overall team goals.

But the Saints also frustrated top teams with their high press and ranked behind only Liverpool and Manchester City for ball recoveries in the final third, while midfielder James Ward-Prowse ran further than any other player in the top flight.

Where they need to improve

At home.

Hasenhuttl's teams rarely play with the fear associated with teams playing away from home - as shown by their seriously strong form away from St Mary's last season, the third best in the Premier League, a record backed up by their performance metrics. It was their poor home form - the second worst in the league - that significantly held them back.

Hasenhuttl's side are excellently organised without the ball in terms of their transitions on the counter-attack.

However, when an opposition team sits deep and allows Hasenhuttl teams possession, Southampton lack the required tools to create high-quality chances and pick up points in the Premier League. This explains their very poor form at St Mary's where they took just 21 points from a possible 57. It's a conundrum Hasenhuttl and his side have to fix.

Key man

Injury problems are now a thing of the past for Danny Ings. With his body stronger than ever, under a manager that has polished his game, Ings is now one of the hottest strikers in the Premier League. His goals were priceless for Saints last season, 22 in total with just one penalty in that haul.

Moreover, he is fundamental to his team's style of play. Hasenhuttl's aggressive style of football is triggered by Ings' ability to press intelligently from the front. Hasenhuttl's commitment to his methods is total and it has become a hallmark of Southampton's game. Only the Premier League's top two clubs have won the ball within 40 metres of the opposition goal more times than his side. They are relentless in their pressing. And Ings has been conditioned to perform this role with great success.

Southampton transfer business so far

Kyle Walker-Peters - Tottenham, undisclosed
Mohammed Salisu - Real Valladolid, £10.9m

Mohamed Elyounoussi - Celtic, loan
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg - Tottenham
Maya Yoshida - released
Mario Lemina, Fulham, loan
Harrison Reed - Fulham, loan

One to watch

Hasenhuttl has been rather open regarding his wish to bring in extra quality in defence. Only Newcastle made more errors leading to goals than Southampton last season as defensive mishaps, especially through the middle, hindered their progress.

The signing of centre-back Mohammed Salisu from Real Valladolid for £10.9m may solve some of those problems. It's a signing that hasn't generated much hype but La Liga watchers will need no introduction to the Ghanaian centre-back labelled 'the Wall of Valladolid'.

Such is his reputation, in February, the Spanish press were linking him with a move to Manchester United. If he adapts quickly to life in a different environment, Saints may have found themselves a bargain.

What is success for Saints in 2020/21?

Hasenhuttl, privately, won't be setting a limit to what Southampton can achieve this season.

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