Southampton's Premier League clash with Tottenham on Wednesday is a chance to recall fond memories. Mauricio Pochettino has gone down a long road of self-improvement since parting ways with the Saints in 2014, while his former employers find themselves in turmoil after the departure of manager Mark Hughes. The Welshman was in charge for just eight months, with his sacking cutting short the three-year contract he was rewarded with after saving the club from the drop last campaign.
There have been plenty of changes at Southampton since owner Gao Jisheng took over the club in the summer of 2017. In recent months, vice-chairman Les Reed and technical director Martin Hunter have been removed from their positions, while Hughes' sacking will see a reshuffle in terms of coaching staff. One win from the Saints' opening 14 league matches was not enough to convince the current ownership that the Welshman deserved further patience – a lesson that may have been learned from giving Mauricio Pellegrino too much time last season.
Former RB Leipzig coach Ralph Hasenhuttl seems to be the main man in the frame to replace Hughes. The experienced coach would arrive with a strong CV, having guided RB Leipzig to the Champions League in recent years, boasting fresh ideas that should give new life to a squad that on paper appears to be more than talented enough to pull themselves out of the relegation mire. Linked with vacancies at Bayern Munich and Arsenal in recent seasons, Hasenhuttl is an exciting name to be mentioned in the same breath as a struggling Premier League club.
Here's everything you need to know about the man rumoured to be next in line for the Saints job:
Ralph Hasenhuttl in brief
Place of birth: Graz, Austria
Previous managerial roles: SpVgg Unterhaching, VfR Aalen, FC Ingolstadt 04, RB Leipzig
Managerial achievements: Promotion from German third division with VfR Aalen (2011-12), German second division champions with FC Ingolstadt (2014-15), Champions League qualification with RB Leipzig (2016-17)
Win rate in last job with RB Leipzig: 48.19 per cent
What tactics does he employ?
Putting a strong focus on the attacking side of the game, Hasenhuttl could be a welcome source of new ideas for a Saints side who have had a real issue putting the ball in the back of the net in recent months. Scoring just 12 times across 14 games in the 2018-19 campaign, only Huddersfield, Newcastle and Crystal Palace have managed to convert less opportunities. Fulham and Burnley, who are the only two clubs propping up the Saints at the foot of the table, have managed to net 14 and 13 respectively.
Choosing to go with a 4-2-2-2 formation at RB Leipzig, adapting his tactical approach based on the excellent players that he had at his disposal, Hasenhuttl made the transition to European football-chasing tactician quickly. He encouraged the best out of star players such as Emil Forsberg, Timo Werner and Naby Keita, as well as helping younger players sourced from elsewhere bed into his plans and fit into his high-intensity, pressing system. After performances that left their fanbase disenchanted under Hughes, an approach that demands more from the Saints' forward line could capture the imagination at St. Mary's.
Would he have enough to work with at Southampton?
Having worked at a club that promotes youth with regularity in the Bundesliga, Hasenhuttl would have seen giving young talents opportunities become the norm. The days of the ‘Southampton way' are long gone, but the club still have the likes of James Ward-Prowse, Jack Stephens, Matt Targett, Yan Valery and Michael Obafemi who have spent varying lengths of time in the club's academy – whether arriving as a teenager or later in their development.
RB Leipzig's wing backs were important contributors to the attack under Hasenhuttl, a role that the likes of Cedric and Ryan Bertrand could fulfil on the south coast. Nathan Redmond, Danny Ings, Shane Long, Michael Obafemi and Mohamed Elyounoussi are capable of playing directly and with pace, providing the energy and athleticism required to play on the front foot if asked. As Hasenhuttl has long been able to work with big talents – players who can take more risks, offer more on-pitch solutions and create with further consistency – he has shown a preference to be direct and threatening to opponents. He hasn't been given the nickname of the ‘Klopp from the Alps' for nothing.
Boasting a range of striking options, a front two appears to be the only way to keep a sizeable group happy. This is a dynamic that the Austrian encouraged at RB Leipzig. Keen to turn possession over by pressing high and having the opportunity to start attacks from higher up the field, Southampton could certainly benefit by having less to do in terms of build-up play from deeper areas. Since the departure of Dusan Tadic, the Saints have lacked a creative presence in the final third: being more aggressive and winning the ball back in the opposition half can eliminate the need for a player to break down a deep, resilient defence.
Southampton go up against the face of their rosy past in Mauricio Pochettino on Wednesday evening, but Hasenhuttl, too, has the ability to take the Saints on a sharp upward trajectory in the not-so-distant future.
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