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Ralph Hasenhüttl, The Next Big Thing?

Currently in fifth place, Southampton are enjoying relative success under Ralph Hasenhüttl. Known for his great coaching and tactical implementation on both defending and attacking, Hasenhuttl created a team that suits the player’s strongpoints and implemented defensive discipline. As a result, Southampton defeated last year’s Premier League and Champions league winner, Liverpool, by 1-0. Today, we will look at what Hasenhuttl implemented tactically in both defensive and attack.

During the defensive phase in Liverpool's half, Southampton formed a 4-2-2-2 formation, with Walcott and Ings leading the line. Just behind, Djenepo and Armstrong tucks in while Diallo and Ward-Prowse push forward to create a balance with the midfielders and forwards. When the Liverpool CB had the ball, the main objective for Southampton was eliminating passing options through the middle of the field and force the ball near the touchline. As shown below, the three midfielders, Ward-Prowse, Diallo, and Djenpo joins together with Ings and Walcott to form a “box” to eliminate passing options in the middle. As you can see, Ward-Prowse instructs Walcott to press Henderson while cover shadowing Thiago, the main orchestrator for Liverpool.

Because of great defensive structure by Southampton’s midfielders and forwards, Liverpool often resulted in passing to either touchline. Once on the touchline, that set the pressing trigger for Southampton, where the fullback and the midfield trio for Southampton to apply immediate pressure to regain possession, and prevent Liverpool from playing in behind the defensive line.

If, however, the fullbacks for Liverpool managed to play the ball up forwards, Southampton were comfortable defending in the aerial battles. One of the reason that Southampton were clinical in dealing with long balls is due to their defensive line sitting deeper than usual (season average: 44.35m. Against Liverpool: 36.47m). As shown below by the courtesy of @markrstats from Twitter, the defensive line for Southampton sat deeper than their season average. Southampton nullified Liverpool tactic of using the fullbacks to play in behind the line by applying immediate pressure once the ball goes to the Liverpool’s fullbacks, and prevent from playing over the top. The low defensive line covered any long balls that were able to play, which resulted in 35 possession regains for Southampton.

In the second half, Southampton looked to defend in their own third by staying extremely compact by forming a 5-3-2 formation and create numerical superiority in the box to lower the chance for Liverpool to get on the end product of crosses. By staying compact and creating numerical superiority in the box, Liverpool only registered 2 chances on goal, with 36 crosses (highest number of crosses this season). Once Southampton regains possession, they look to counter with Walcott and Ings who waits for the ball up front.

For offense, Southampton formed a three man backline with Stephens, Bednarek, and Bertrand. Walker-Peters located himself up the field to become an outlet for the three man backline. The players in the defensive line are extremely comfortable with their passing ability. With over completion rate of over 70%, and progressive passes over 200, the backline passed the ball vertically with relative ease. The tactic of Southampton was to invite pressure from Liverpool from slow passing in the backline, which unorganized positions on the Liverpool side. Once Southampton displaced the organization of Liverpool, Southampton quickly passed the ball vertically, and looked to play in behind.

In backline of three, Stephens invites pressure from the front trio for Liverpool. As he receives pressure, he slowly passes the ball to Bednarek, further inviting pressure from Liverpool, trying to dismantle the defensive structure.

Bednarek then finds Walker-Peters, RB, who dropped back to receive the ball with pressure coming from Liverpool's forward and midfielders. As the pressure mounts, the defensive organization for Liverpool becomes disrupted, which creates a gap between the defensive and midfield line. Realizing this, Walker-Peters quickly passes the ball to Armstrong then lays the ball off to Ward-Prowse, who has ample of time to collect the ball and plays Ings in behind.

In the final third, Walcott and Tella uses their pace to creates a 2 vs 1against the Arnold.

Hasenhuttl is doing a great job with creating a team that is disciplined in both defending and offense, as well as using the strongpoints of players to progressive the ball forwards with extremely fast pace. It will be interesting to see if Southampton can continue to progress and end in the top 4 position in the near future.

This piece was written by Bennet Luethje. See Bennet's LinkedIn here

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