PURPLE PUNDIT: Southampton have a good squad and a great manager, but find themselves 15th in the table, and so it might be time for a parting of the ways.
There has been a lot of talk lately regarding this season’s relegation battle centered on the likes of Leeds United, Burnley, Everton, Newcastle and Brentford. One team that is right amongst that pack but up until now has gone under the radar is Southampton. At the time of writing, the Saints find themselves 15th in the table on 40 points, just six clear of the drop. It’s no wonder then that Ralph Hassenhuttl has recently been installed as the favourite to be the next Premier League manager to part ways with their club. So this begs the question, should Southampton move on from the Austrian at the end of the season?
The case against Hassenhuttl is certainly a strong one. As his third full season comes to a close, Southampton’s best possible result is 46pts, which could mean a 10th placed finish. Realistically however, seeing as Southampton trail Newcastle(14th) by three points and the next fixture at Saint Mary’s is against title chasing Liverpool, it’s very unlikely that they will move up the table. Should that be the case, it’ll mean back-to-back 15th-placed finishes for Hassenhuttl, and once again he has failed to reach the heights of his first full season of charge, which saw the Saints accumulate 52 points for an 11th-placed finish.
As the final game of the season is away at Leicester, it’s easy to see Southampton remaining on 40 points. This would give the former RB Leipzig manager an average points tally of 45 points across three campaigns. Over the last five seasons prior to 2021/22, 45pts would at best get you 10th in the table. In 2018/19, the season where Hassenhuttl was brought in during December, 45 points could’ve placed you as low as 14th. Compare this to previous Southampton bosses and it makes for grim reading.
Before leaving for Spurs, Mauricio Pochettino led Southampton to 8th in the table in 2013/14, a feat which was bettered by Ronald Koeman in both 2014/15 (7th) and 2015/16 (6th). The Dutchman’s successor, Claude Puel, maintained those high standards by claiming 8th in the 2016/17 campaign. Here came the dramatic dip as Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes oversaw 17th and 16th place finishes respectively. The task of Hassenhuttl was to build the club back to fight for Europe, but upto now, he has ultimately failed.
This decline has been in line with a noticeable change in recruitment. From 16/17-18/19, Southampton’s most noteworthy signings came from clubs such as Bayern Munich, Juventus, Monaco, Lille and Borussia Monchengladbach. However, across 19/20-21/22 the incomings have arrived from the likes of Spurs, Birmingham, Real Valladolid, Blackburn and Stade Bretois. Danny Ings was surplus to requirements at Liverpool when he joined the Saints, but has since left for pastures new in the shape of Aston Villa, which points to another transfer market related issue that has arisen during Hassenhuttl’s tenure.
In the past, Southampton was seen as a stepping stone to the bigger clubs, as witnessed with the likes of Sadio Mané and Virgil Van Dijk leaving for Liverpool, or Victor Wanyama heading to title-chasing Spurs. More recently though, that dynamic has altered significantly. You have Ings and former Saint’s academy graduate Matt Targett linking up at mid-table Villa, Jannik Vestergaard departing for Leicester City, and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg moving on to a Jose Mourinho Spurs side that had now fallen out of Champions League contention.
Southampton have stood still while clubs at their level have progressed, but fault for this does not sit entirely with Hassenhuttl. Their net spend across the last three seasons according to Transfermarkt is -£25.14m, with the biggest outlay for a player being the £22.59m splashed on Ings in the 19/20 season. The two highest fees since then only combine for £27.9m. When compared to other Premier League sides, the difference is startling. In this most recent campaign, each of Brighton, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Leeds spent more on a player than Southampton. The same applied to both West Brom and Sheffield United the year previous, two teams who now find themselves in the Championship. The fact of the matter is to compete in the modern game, you need to spend more, and in that regard, Southampton have failed Hassenhuttl.
Bringing all of this together, the end of the season is fast approaching and soon every club will be assessing their options. For Southampton, the results have dipped and there’s no sign of them returning to the top-half anytime soon. Meanwhile, for Hassenhuttl, he’s had to watch on as managers like Patrick Vieria, Graham Potter, and Steven Gerrard are being provided with the funds to build squads capable of fighting for European places down the line. Both sides of this discussion are attractive to potential suitors; Southampton is a great club whilst Hassenhuttl is an impressive manager with a positive approach to football. A parting of the ways will be beneficial for all involved when this season is done.