Straight from the kickoff at Vicarage Road this past Tuesday, Watford centre-back Craig Cathcart received the ball at his feet off the first touch. The Northern Irishman’s subsequent long ball was abruptly blocked by a press from Shane Long, who found himself with only the opposing keeper in front of him. A touch and a deft chip later, and the Southampton striker had recorded the fastest goal in Premier League history at just 7.69 seconds into the match.
Harkening back to his days as manager of RB Leipzig in Germany, Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhüttl has implemented this lightning quick, counter-attacking style of play into the English side. This change in tactics has led to an 8-4-8 win-draw-loss league record for the Austrian this season, which is impressive considering Southampton’s league record before he was hired was an abysmal 1-6-8.
One of the key figures in the team’s turnaround has been 25-year-old forward Nathan Redmond. The English attacker has been involved in virtually every match since Hasenhüttl arrived, scoring eight goals and three assists in all competitions in a side that struggled to score at the beginning of the season. This analysis will break down how Redmond has thrived recently in this tactical system.
Redmond in Hasenhüttl’s attack
When Hasenhüttl was first implanting his tactics at Southampton, the manager used rather logical theories and strategies. He didn’t exactly have a midfielder with the ball-carrying capabilities of Naby Keïta, nor a striker with the goalscoring consistency of Timo Werner, as he had while at Leipzig. He therefore adjusted the system into a back-five formation.
This adjustment not only gave the defence stability at the back, but also put an emphasis on quick counter-attacks, relying on hasty disruptions of the opponent in which to exploit space.
One of Redmond’s best matches this season came recently against Wolves. The Midlands club’s defence wasn’t prepared to quickly adjust to Southampton’s vehement counter-pressing followed by swift attacks. Redmond scored his second brace of the year by taking advantage of the space around the Wolves back line. His vision and intelligence in attack make him daunting to defend on the counter-attack.
Redmond is also capable of taking on defenders while on the ball, with strong dribbling skills. This often occurs in the wide areas, where there is more space to utilise in getting past the defender, especially in situations when a counter-attack turns into possession in the final third.
This style of play from Redmond has proven to be very well-suited for the fast, space-oriented attacks from Southampton under Hasenhüttl.
There is no doubt Redmond has vastly improved under the new manager, and the statistics behind the movements and results support it even more so.
A second jump in Redmond’s performances is visible, beginning in February. At this time, the stability on the back line and formidable nature of the team’s counter-attack had given opponents reason to be more cautious in pushing forward in their attacking build-up. This allowed Redmond to focus on attacking more himself, and thus saw him play even further in attack, even playing as a striker in three matches.
One example of Redmond’s forward positioning was against Brighton. With Southampton’s confidence and ability to hold onto the ball improving, Redmond played as a secondary striker as the midfielders were able to consistently bring the ball through the levels of the pitch.
Even with the player’s success further forward, Hasenhüttl has done an excellent job at keeping opponents guessing when it comes to player positions. Redmond has had admirable performances both up top and in his natural half-spaces. The partnership has caused Redmond to blossom into one of the more under-appreciated if not explosive attackers in the Premier League.
Lastly, anyone still searching for more evidence of Redmond’s improvement simply needs to observe the winger’s match history below.
Redmond’s match history this season before (above) and after (below) Hasenhüttl’s appointment. He was involved in exactly zero goals the first half of the season- all of his eight goals and three assists have come during his time in Hasenhüttl’s system.
Nathan Redmond’s situation at Southampton under Ralph Hasenhüttl is an archetypal example of a two vital coaching aspects: a player trusting a new system, and a manager adapting his system to the players he has available. The one they call “the Alpine Klopp” has proven his tactical prowess through his understanding of his players’ capabilities as a unit; the team simply plays better than the sum of their parts.
Redmond meanwhile has been one of the most, if not the most, important players in this equation. We could soon see stability and top-seven competitiveness return to Southampton once again.
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