Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe examines Ralph Hasenhüttl's footballing philosophy and exactly what Southampton supporters can expect, in time, under the new boss...
In appointing Ralph Hasenhüttl as their new manager, Southampton have made a staunch commitment to an attacking, progressive, modern style of football. The Austrian teaches a footballing philosophy that harnesses tactical and technical ability, and leans on heavy pressing and quick chance creation.
Or, in other words, exactly what the fans at St Mary’s have been eager to see for some time.
The 51-year-old is one of the game’s rising managerial stars, his short career to date already punctuated by success story after success story.
Taking Ingolstadt from the bottom of the Second Division to the Bundesliga (as champions) in the space of two seasons was an incredible feat, and he followed it up with a mid-table finish in the top tier to consolidate his work.
That summer he took over newly-promoted RB Leipzig, a side with richer resources and access to far more talent, and he produced the best storyline Germany has had in years: guiding the eastern outfit to second in the league in 2016/17, running Bayern Munich close over the course of “der Hinrunde” (the first half of the season).
The list of elite managers who have both time and appreciation for Hasenhüttl is impressive, inclusive of Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp, and the reason he draws their praise is obvious: his tactical style aligns fairly closely with theirs in certain ways.
This has led to some comparisons which Hasenhüttl isn’t a fan of – he vehemently states that he is his own man – but it’s impossible to deny there’s logic to them.
Hasenhüttl’s Saints will, when fully acclimatised to his methods, produce a brand of football similar to the “heavy metal” style Klopp brought with him to Liverpool. His team will press and run and harry, and they’ll attack incisively, focusing on fashioning chances via quick interchanges and explosive moves.
The first of these elements likely to settle in at St Mary’s is the pressing; in his first official interview for the club, Hasenhüttl stressed off-the-ball work will form a major part of his early coaching on the south coast.
“It will be an intensive journey,” he said. “Pressing will play a big part, not only counter-pressing (pressing as soon as the ball is lost), but all phases: when we have the ball, off the ball, lose it, win it.”
The Austrian was present at Wembley for the loss to Tottenham on Wednesday, and he lamented “it was too easy to score against us.” That will change quickly, as gradually improved fitness levels will lead to a far more aggressive, in-your-face frontline.
Pressing triggers will be installed, meaning the players will look for certain actions as cues to apply pressure.
At Leipzig that was often a lateral pass along the backline, allowing the team to trap teams against the sideline and force panicked clearances from constricted areas. At times, it was also when a certain player had possession of the ball.
His Ingolstadt and Leipzig sides were, simply put, really difficult to play against and to play through. His Southampton side will eventually be the same.
Hasenhüttl is famous among German football aficionados for his 4-2-2-2 formation, favoured not only because it’s conducive to staggered pressing (the three banks of two players can go one after the other), but also because of its attacking prospects.
Once Saints adapt to his defensive schemes, the attacking play will start to blossom shortly after.
The formation is often described as 4-2-2-2 rather than 4-4-2 because of the positions taken up by the narrow wingers; they will be instructed to utilise the half-spaces (the column of pitch between the wing and the centre) rather than become outright, chalk-on-your-boots wide men.
In positioning an attacker in each half-space at all times, you’re stressing the opponent’s formation and occupying the zone between their centre-back and full-back. It’s an area a lot of damage can be done from. Those men can still flit wide and deliver crosses, but they won’t be asked to do so constantly.
Going quickly from back to front will soon become a key tenet of Saints’ play.
Vertical passes from deep midfield into the forwards – who can then play one-twos in advanced areas, or lay-off to a third runner breaking the lines – will become a common but deadly feature. Aggressive runs into the channel from a fast striker will continue to happen regularly.
Hasenhüttl’s style feels like a great prospective fit for the Premier League and, more specifically, for Saints.
In Mario Lemina and Pierre Emile-Højbjerg he has the dynamic dribblers from deep he likes; in Nathan Redmond he has a player who can either play the narrow winger role or run the channels; and in Danny Ings and Stuart Armstrong he has two men well suited to manipulating space between the lines.
With personnel who profile well to Hasenhüttl's style already in place, the transition should be fairly swift and fairly smooth. Once that early "intensive journey" has taken place on the training ground and the bonds start to form, Saints will reap the benefits of this exciting, progressive appointment.