Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl bemoaned the match fitness of his players after watching them fall to a 2-0 defeat to Brentford in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday evening.
The Austrian made just one change to his full strength side from the Premier League’s opening weekend but Saints again struggled to get into the contest and recorded their second loss of the season.
First-half goals from Christian Norgaard and Josh Dasilva secured a comfortable win for the visiting Bees at St Mary’s and Hasenhuttl was left to rue a lack of training time with his players ahead of this season.
Speaking to media post-match, he said:
“I think at the moment it is a very clear picture that we showed. We have to be very very clear that at the moment, with the team we have, it will be very difficult to win games.
“We were not quick enough at any part, not physically and not mentally.
“This is definitely something that we should work on. We played too slow and we did not do enough with the ball. Some of our players are not as strong as we have seen them in the past. We have a few big problems but we know that it is a tough season and a long season and we have to get back to working well.”
When looking at these words from Hasenhuttl it is important to look back at the work they did last season.
Saints played five pre-season friendlies ahead of the 2019/20 campaign and then proved themselves to be one of the fittest teams in the Premier League after the restart of the domestic season in June.
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According to fbref.com, Saints pressured their opponents more than any other team in the English top-flight during the last campaign (180 pressures per game) and 30.9% of these pressures resulted in the ball being won back within five seconds.
Against Crystal Palace at the weekend, this figure was down to just 142 and this emphasises the point that Hasenhuttl makes – his players need more time and more work to reach the levels they were at before.
Given that they have had difficulty in creating chances and stopping counter-attacks at source, it appears that the players need to readjust to the demands of their roles within the team.
Fitness levels are absolutely crucial for the pressing style that Saints play. Not only does constant pressure need to be put on the opponent in possession but fast breaks forward need to come too.
Then recovery runs need to be swift too if the opponent wins the ball back and springs forward themselves. Crystal Palace’s goal on Saturday was an example of Saints being caught out of position and not being able to recover their positions in time to stop Wilfried Zaha from scoring.