An underpowered Southampton fall to Leicester City at Wembley. A Kelechi Iheanacho strike was enough to separate the two sides in a poor FA cup semi-final. Ralph Hasenhüttl’s men will doubtless look on the evening’s action as a missed opportunity to make club history.
In bidding for the FA cup final for the first time in 18 years, Saints offered almost nothing in an attacking capacity. The side couldn’t muster a single shot on target.
While the Hampshire side’s defence played well in a tight game, offensive players like, Nathan Redmond, Che Adams, Moussa Djenepo , and Danny Ings struggled to have an impact on proceedings.
Although the red and white army didn’t make it easy for the opposition, they themselves struggled to make quality passes into key areas. The Foxes appeared to be one step ahead of Southampton, as they stuck close to their opposite numbers and gave them very little time on the ball.
Though SFC rallied briefly in the second half they found it challenging to make it deep into Leicester’s half, let alone breach the box.
The result means that Southampton are dumped out of the cup and now face a run of almost meaningless games to close out the Premier League season. With seven games to go and nine points clear of the drop zone, the club is likely three points away from entering what you might call the warm-up to pre-season.
In the wake of this season killing defeat we ask the question that has been on everyone’s lips recently. Ralph in or out?
The simple answer is Ralph in. Every day of the week and twice on Sunday. It isn’t a particularly difficult question to answer, despite what some in the community seem to think.
It is fair to say that things have not been great of late. Southampton has lost nine of its last 14 matches. Monday’s performance against West Bromwich Albion was comfortably the worst performance of the season so far. This even includes that infamous night at Old Trafford.
Saints lacked energy, focus, and any kind of idea on how to get themselves into the game against the Baggies.
Although, SFC put in the effort on a visit to Wembley this did little to improve things. They lacked dynamism couldn’t work themselves out a first gear, and showed no sign of creativity.
Some fans have understandably questioned the manager’s role in the downturn inform. His late subs don’t give a player enough time to make an impact, the pressing style isn’t getting it done, why is there no plan B?, etc. etc. etc.
These are all valid issues which the Austrian will have to face sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, sacking Hasenhüttl won’t solve anything.
Klopp of the Alps’s high energy pressing excited fans as his charges harried, harassed, and outworked opponents into making mistakes. Not only did this style turn Saints into one of the form teams of Project Restart, but eventually took them all the way to the summit of the Premier League.
Inevitably, the November joy did not last and with the new year came new lows. The team has only won seven games in 2021. To make matters worse there has also been multiple injuries to key personnel along the way.
This would be bad news in any season, but with the games coming thicker and faster than usual, absences are felt for longer and recovery time is shortened, meaning a higher chance of further injury.
The small squad plays an attractive but sapping brand of football. This is made worse by the fact that there is insufficient cover, making rotation and rest tricky at best. Then last but not least we must consider, that with the quicker start to the 2020/21 season, it of course means a shorter recovery between campaigns.
All of this has combined to make one miserable but inevitable headache. This is not to absolve RH of responsibility, but rather to put it into context.
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The gaffer still has plenty to learn. He was naïve to think that the small squad would work in the EPL, his late subs are baffling at times, and he does need to find a more conservative second style. Nevertheless, the 53-year-old’s approach has not only secured safety this season, but has given us the joy of being top of the Premier League for the first time in our history.
At their maximum the team has shown the ability to mix it with the best including, beating Liverpool, twice sharing the honours with Chelsea, and defeating the FA cup holders Arsenal.
These feats were not luck, but as a result of a strategy put in place by a coach and executed by his players. Now, the latter is beginning to flag making those tactical methods harder to implement.
Many of the same players have also lost focus and been in and out of form throughout the season. Thus making it harder for those on the touchline to get the message out there. It’s clear Ralph is trying his best as he is hardly ever silent on the touchline.
Deserted grounds are proving that the head honcho is constantly offering encouragement and coaching. The head man is also known to have developed a playbook and offer one to ones with players to help get the best out of them.
Unfortunately, when all the plotting is done, the training complete, and 3 o’clock ticks around, the players have to translate the game plan onto the pitch.
Through a mix of injuries, fatigue, and just downright sloppiness, that hasn’t been possible for the players in 2021. Defensive howlers cost the team on Monday Night Football, while the attack was lacklustre in this latest adventure.
It is true that a manager sets the tone, and the tactics, but when game time rolls around the players must succeed largely on their own. Yes, the coach can call for change and swap a few key players around, but ultimately the 11 on the pitch must overcome adversity on their own.
The first 11 faces adversity and very rarely succeeds. Saints have dropped the most points from winning positions in the top-flight, have one of the worst offenses in the top-flight, and struggle to find their way past a basic 10-man block.
All of that is to say, if Southampton were to change the manager tomorrow they are still likely to be left with largely the same hit and miss playing squad. This is partly down to the financial waters in which Saints are forced to swim. The record signing is currently Jannik Vestergaard for £22.50m.
This is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but you can find gems. Look no further than Virgil Van Dyke and Sadio Mané. However, there are also what you might call diamonds in the rough.
Some are young and inexperienced, others are top class, but come with injury issues as others struggle with inconsistency. Saints are made up of players just like this. Fans will recall that Mark Hughes suffered many of the same issues that now plague the man who replaced him.
Sparky’s team was defensively fragile and struggled to hold leads. In fact, Hughes was let go after his side went two goals up against Manchester United, only to throw the advantage away before half time.
The former Southampton player arrived to rescue the club from the abysmal spell of Mauricio Pellegrino. The work rate went up, and the defence was improved just enough to survive the drop.
Now Hasenhüttl, has made the next step by giving Southampton an identity and a way of doing things. It may have its flaws, but even the most ardent critics would have to admit that it has worked and has brought them joy in the process.
Several players such as, Nathan Redmond, Ryan Bertrand, Jan Bednarek, Jack Stephens, Alex McCarthy, James Ward Prowse and Fraser Forster, remain from the previous boss’ tenure.
As said before, the manager is responsible for his team, but the players are also responsible for making him look good too. Some struggled to do this under Hughes as many now struggle to help the current leader.
Supporters have seen what the approach can do during the first half of the season, so would be hard-pressed to call him a bad coach. However, they would have to concede to a host of mitigating factors out of anyone’s control, along with already inconsistent playing staff.
Frankly, the situation is unlikely to change without significant investment and a new found sense of care and direction from ownership. The powers that be are reportedly looking for a new buyer for the club, so the impetus will have to come from them instead.
Hasenhüttl has not only shown what he can do, but also his passion for the club and the project he is undertaking. Ralph is part of the problem, but he is the solution.