Premier League team guide: Southampton in the spotlight
A defining campaign is in store for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s Southampton.
The Saints boss has been in situ for three-and-a-half seasons at St Mary’s, where he has comfortably steered the club clear of relegation on each occasion.
But progress has been slow under the Austrian tactician — and the South Coast outfit endured a torrid run of form in the final few months of last term.
With Southampton enjoying a first summer under the stewardship of new owners Sport Republic, signs of improvement will be expected in the months ahead.
Last season: 15th
Inconsistency plagued Southampton throughout 2021-22.
Hasenhuttl’s side did not win any of their first seven league fixtures — but then picked up an impressive 10 points from the next four matches.
A similar purple patch around the turn of the year saw the Saints suffer just two defeats in 13 games, beating high-flying West Ham and Tottenham in the process.
However, nine losses and only one win in their final 12 outings has triggered alarm bells among some supporters at St Mary’s.
Only three teams conceded more goals than Southampton (67) last season, so strengthening at the back has been a priority during the current window.
Goalkeepers Gavin Bazunu and Mateusz Lis have joined from Manchester City and Altay SK respectively, while Bochum centre-back Armel Bella-Kotchap signed for £8.5million in late June.
New £10.5m midfielder Romeo Lavia is another arrival from the Etihad Stadium, with Nigeria international Joe Aribo and teenage striker Sekou Mara completing the Saints’ summer business so far.
3-5-2: McCarthy; Bella-Kotchap, Bednarek, Salisu; Walker-Peters, Ward-Prowse, Lavia, Armstrong, Perraud; Aribo, Adams.
Hasenhuttl has been experimenting with a 3-5-2 formation during pre-season, suggesting that Southampton will utilise that system when the campaign kicks off.
Alex McCarthy is likely to start in goal, supported by a rearguard of Bella-Kotchap, Jan Bednarek and Mohammed Salisu.
Kyle Walker-Peters and Romain Perraud should operate as wing-backs, with Lavia set to compete with fellow holding midfielder Oriol Romeu for a starting berth.
James Ward-Prowse and Stuart Armstrong add dynamism and creativity in the middle, while Aribo could be used as an out-of-position second striker to support Che Adams.
Star man: James Ward-Prowse
Ward-Prowse is the jewel in Southampton’s crown.
A sensational set-piece taker, only David Beckham (18) has scored more free-kick goals than the Saints’ midfield maestro (14) in Premier League history.
He has racked up 362 appearances across all competitions for the club and featured in an incredible 117 consecutive matches, until a suspension ended that streak last term.
The 27-year-old has been coveted by West Ham after amassing 15 league goal contributions in 2021-22, though Southampton are unlikely to countenance any offers for their star man.
Up-and-comer: Gavin Bazunu
Not too many players feature for rivals Portsmouth and Southampton in consecutive seasons — but goalkeeper Bazunu is hoping to star on both sides of the divide.
The Republic of Ireland international, 20, spent last season on loan at Fratton Park from parent club Manchester City, where he won their Player of the Season award after an outstanding campaign.
That alerted the Saints’ recruitment team, who paid around £12m to sign him from the Citizens.
With experienced custodian Fraser Forster moving to Tottenham in June, Bazunu will now compete with McCarthy and Lis to be Southampton’s No1.
The boss: Ralph Hasenhuttl
Hassenhutl was billed as "The Alpine Klopp" when he arrived at Southampton in 2018, such was his tactical similarity to Liverpool’s manager.
The Austrian coach honed a high-pressing 4-2-2-2 system at former clubs Unterhaching, Aalen and Ingolstadt, before rising to prominence after guiding RB Leipzig to second place in their debut Bundesliga season.
His next move was to the South Coast, where he has instilled his philosophy across the Saints’ reserve and youth teams — creating a playbook for each of the age groups to follow.
Results at first-team level have been mixed, with 9-0 defeats to Leicester and Manchester United causing acute embarrassment.
But the 54-year-old has consistently kept Southampton away from relegation on a limited budget, so may benefit from increased spending under the club’s new owners.
All information correct as of 10am, August 1, 2022