Southampton have moved quick to replace Mark Hughes, announcing Ralph Hasenhuttl as their new manager on Wednesday.
The decision came just two days after Hughes was sacked following a poor start to the season, and Hasenhuttl is set to take charge of Saints on Thursday, with Kelvin Davis fulfilling the managerial role for Southampton’s game against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday.
Southampton have had a poor start to the season, winning just once in the Premier League and being knocked out of the Carabao Cup in the fourth round by Leicester City.
Under Hughes, Saints have gone on a 10-game winless run in the league which sees them currently 18th in the table after 14 games. The final straw for the Welshman was Southampton losing a 2-0 lead against Manchester United on Saturday, with the Red Devils fighting back to draw.
Hasenhuttl’s appointment brought excitement to Southampton fans, with the club looking to have made a real positive change in the hopes of turning their season around and escaping relegation.
But the Austrian is still a largely unknown quantity in England. So, who is Ralph Hasenhuttl and what will he bring to Southampton?
Read on to find out.
Who is Ralph Hasenhuttl?
By his own admission, Hasenhuttl was not the most talented footballer, but the Austrian made over 400 league appearances for eight clubs in his home country along with Belgium and Germany. The forward also won eight caps for the Austrian national team, scoring three goals.
But the Austrian wasted little time in developing his coaching skills early, starting his managerial career in Germany’s 3. Bundesliga with SpVgg Unterhaching in 2007.
After spending three seasons with Haching, Hasenhuttl won 40 of his 88 games, drawing 20 and losing 28, but a poor third campaign would see the Austrian sacked.
A year later, Hasenhuttl took charge of his second club, VfR Aalen, steering the side to safety in the 3. Bundesliga in his first season before leading them to promotion the following year.
Hasenhuttl’s next club was FC Ingolstadt in Germany’s second tier, turning the side from relegation battlers upon his arrival to earning promotion to the Bundesliga in 2014/15 and finishing a respectable 11th in their debut campaign.
His efforts earned him a move to newly-promoted RB Leipzig in the summer of 2016, and it was there he started to make a bigger name for himself, leading the Roten Bullen to second in the Bundesliga and a place in the Champions League.
Hasenhuttl’s second season with Leipzig was not as spectacular. The Austrian left in 2018, but he must be credited for playing a big role in the club’s arrival in European football.
Why is Hasenhuttl known as ‘the Austrian Jurgen Klopp’?
Previously he was described as the anti-Guardiola, but Hasenhuttl’s footballing philosophy is primarily based on pressing opponents high up while also relying on counter-attacking play get their goals.
After enjoying his most successful season with RB Leipzig in 2016/17, Hasenhuttl utilised a 4-2-2-2 system, using agile and physically powerful players to make the most of his system. Hasenhuttl’s team are also organised and direct when on the ball, focusing their play through the middle of the pitch with a narrow formation.
Hasenhuttl’s style has been likened to that of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, with the pair earning their coaching badges alongside each other.
The man himself has also commented on these comparisons, admitting their philosophy is similar.
“Klopp and I did our coaching badges together and we know each other very well,” he said.
“I think we appreciate a similar philosophy on football – we want to play a high tempo game, we want our guys to sprint around, press well and these are elements which make the game livelier and varied and get people excited.”
But while Klopp prefers his wingers and full-backs to share the attacking burden out wide, Hassenhuttl’s narrow formation imposes greater responsibility on his defenders to create width.
Speaking to Football Paradise about his own playing style in September, Hasenhuttl highlighted his desire to capture the ball, switch and quickly advance, in fewer than 10 seconds when in charge at Leipzig.
“We created different levels when we had the ball, showing the players how and where to position themselves and how the lines need to be,” explained Hasenhuttl.
“We had a few principles: maximum height, minimum width; over-playing opponents; deep runs to get the ball behind the last line; as little contact, few touches as possible, try for no more than two.
“The aim was to capture the ball, switch and quickly advance, in not more than 10 seconds. Of course, it depends on where on the pitch we win the ball. Lots of possibilities. We scored a lot of goals in this manner in their first season. Lots of early and intense pressing.”
Under Hasenhuttl, Naby Keita and Timo Werner made their name in German football and became the highly sought-after players they are today, with the former joining Liverpool for £48m last summer.
Werner’s success, as well as Hasenhuttl’s, at Leipzig was down to creative players in midfield capable of unlocking a defence with one pass or a driving run through the centre of the pitch.
What will Hasenhuttl bring to Southampton?
Hasenhuttl may have an impressive recent history with RB Leipzig, but the Austrian has a tough task on his hands to help save Southampton from relegation. Saints have won just one game in the Premier League the season, fewer than any other team, and they have scored just 12 goals in their opening 14 games so far.
However, they have not been lacking creativity, with Southampton creating the fifth-most chances in the Premier League so far (141) – though only 15 of these have been big chances.
Saints have also had the third-most shots in the league with 208, but only 68 of those have hit the target.
At Southampton, Hasenhuttl will have the likes of James Ward-Prowse and Stuart Armstrong to call upon in midfield, with the first two ideal for setting up Danny Ings. Hasenhuttl also has a reputation for blooding young players, something which will appeal to Southampton given their impressive academy.
One thing which makes Hasenhuttl even more Premier League-ready is his willingness to adapt his style of play depending on the opposition, meaning he won’t be lining up against Manchester City in the same way they could against Fulham – ensuring Southampton have the best chance getting as many points of possible.
Mario Lemina will also be a key player for Hasenhuttl in the middle of the pitch and can feature heavily in the deeper midfield positions, should the Austrian use his 4-2-2-2 formation.
The Gabonese (24) has won more tackles than any other Southampton player this season and has also completed the second-most passes (559) and take-ons (15) among his team-mates.
Also capable of picking the ball up from deep and running with it, Lemina has completed the second-most take-ons at Southampton with 15 – only Nathan Redmond (37) has managed more.
Naby Keita was vital for Hasenhuttl at Leipzig and will be for Klopp at Liverpool, and there’s no stopping Lemina from becoming his new boss’ new Keita.