Chelsea’s trip to Southampton puts them up against a good side that has gotten the worst lucky this season. How does Ralph Hasenhuttl set up?
Southampton’s hiring of Ralph Hasenhuttl was a coup. The Big Austrian had done amazing work at RB Leipzig and it was largely expected that his next club would be a Champions League level side. But perhaps he got bored with his year off and when Southampton came calling, he did not hesitate regardless of where they were in the league.
With virtually the same squad he started with, Hasenhuttl managed to keep the Saints up with a version of his traditional tactics. With a few reinforcements here and a few trims there, Hasenhuttl’s side is now much closer to what he wants them to be going forward.
But despite that, they have been very unlucky thus far this season. They at the top of the rest outside the top six on most metrics but they have had the lack of fortune to play several top six sides already. They have been mostly unlucky in their pursuit of glory but the bounce back is coming at some point. Chelsea and Frank Lampard will want to ensure that it does not happen against them.
Formation wise, Hasenhuttl is like many managers that were inspired by or came up along Jurgen Klopp; he is a chameleon. Last year at Southampton he mostly relied on a 3-5-2 and this season the only formation used in the Premier League more than once has been a 4-2-2-2 that he adopted while at Leipzig. Guessing which formation he will use is a shot in the dark at this point as he looks for the best way to implement his ideas with the current squad.
Everything Southampton will do will start from the press. They will press aggressively in numbers to force the opponent wider or pull them into traps they create centrally. And aggressive in this case means “they will go straight through anyone”. In Southampton’s last six games, they have been good for a red card every other game. Part of that is the unluckiness already mentioned and part of it is how aggressive they are asked to play.
When the ball is won, it is quickly played forward to the strikers. “Long ball football” was once the way of those who refused to move along with the game but Hasenhuttl has shown it is still very workable in the modern game and can even be an art form. This desire to get the ball forward as quickly as possible to create chaos is part of the reason why they are able to get off so many shots.
Frank Lampard’s tactics, of course, are not much different than Hasenhuttl’s. But Lampard’s shown more willingness to back off and counter whereas Hasenhuttl tactics are as if the side downed a case of Red Bull before the match.
What that means for Chelsea is that this will likely be a back and forth, high octane affair. Both sides will press like mad and play the ball forward quickly to catch the opponent unaware. It is rare to call Chelsea the more clinical side, but in this case it is true so long as Southampton remain unlucky.
Do not expect a clean sheet from this match. It has a high probability of being a high scoring affair where the only difference is who takes their chances. Thus far, Chelsea has shown they can do that a little better than Southampton but it is hard to tell when it will click for the Saints. Lampard will do all he can to make sure that it happens on another day.