Watt View - Hasenhuttl’s “complete game” highlights the importance of team-building
Saturday, 7th Nov 2020 13:00
As Saints sit pretty at the top of the Premier League for the first time - becoming the 29th club to do so - it was the performance rather than the novelty of reaching the summit that did it for Matt Watts, find out his view here.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s men dispatched Newcastle United with ease at 2-0 but it could have been so many more, with 61 per cent possession and 15 shots - eight of which were on target. It was a pummelling without the scoreline it deserved.
There were sterling displays seen across the pitch - from Alex McCarthy to Jan Bednarek to Che Adams - leading the Saints boss to claim he felt it was the “complete game”.
This was without the ever-present Ryan Bertrand at left back and star striker Danny Ings, with centre back Jack Stephens joining the defensive line-up and Everton-loanee Theo Walcott pairing with Adams up front.
The quality performance was of no surprise as Hasenhuttl has reiterated over many months how he has been working tirelessly to ensure his squad reached peak levels of fitness as quickly as possible with the right player balance and strength in depth in the team to fulfil his ambitions to help move the entirety of the club to the next level.
Bizarrely, BBC Sport pundit Mark Lawrenson claimed prior to the game that Saints would struggle to pick up all three points in the absence of Ings which, given the club’s recent team-focused victories, seemed odd.
He said: "One player does not make a team, but everything Saints do really does revolve around him. I don't think their manager, Ralph Hassenhuttl, will change his system on Friday but it will be a lot less effective without Ings because he sniffs goals out for fun."
He actually couldn’t be more wrong - as was proved with the comfortable victory which sent Saints top of the table eight games into the campaign.
Everything Saints do under Hasenhuttl revolves around the team and style of play rather than individual players, hence how the team was able to adapt in the absence of key players against a Newcastle team also currently performing well.
For an experienced pundit, broadcaster and ex-professional to overlook a fundamental aspect of the way a top flight club plays is not just surprising but lackadaisical. There are, after all, only 20 teams in the Premier League he needs to study.
I have made special mention on a number of occasions in my columns so far this season of the potential of both Stuart Armstrong and Jannik Vestergaard to be key players this season and both played significant roles again in last night’s victory, thought high levels of attainment were visible throughout.
Confidence also grows when you look at the bench and see a mix of quality, experience and youth despite absentees of the calibre of Bertrand and Ings.
That is something we didn’t see earlier in the season - particularly in the defeat to Tottenham - but, after some shrewd business in the transfer window and a reinforced squad, Saints now have the luxury of.
Substitutes against the Magpies included Nathan Redmond, Ibrahima Diallo, Shane Long and Fraser Forster, as well as exciting prospect Dan N’Lundulu
The decision to bring Walcott back home to St Mary’s 14 years after he left for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal looks to be a master stroke.
The 31-year-old put in an all-action display which included setting up Adams for the first goal, missing a chance just outside the box by inches, having being a stonewall penalty denied despite a VAR review and demonstrating a simply outstanding work rate.
Hasenhuttl hailed the dedication and effort from Walcott as “amazing” in his post-match interview and it seems fitting that, on his Premier League debut for the club, Saints reached the top of the top division for the first time in 32 years - the number he burst onto the scene with in 2005 and is back wearing so proudly during his second spell at St Mary’s.
Walcott said Saints have “some leaders in that dressing room” and Hasenhuttl said “anything is possible”. Who knows where this spell will take us. What I do know is that I for one will just enjoy the moment while it lasts and hope for more!
Photo: Action Images
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