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The Defence Has Been Sorted Now Saints Just Need To Start Scoring
Tuesday, 2nd Nov 2021 09:25

Over the past 3 months Ralph Hasenhuttl has transformed Southampton from one of the worst defences in the Premier League to one of the best, but at the other end of the pitch the goals have not yet flowed, when they do Saints could be a force to be reckoned with.

Last season Saints conceded 68 goals in the Premier League, a total only surpassed by West Bromwich Albion who let in 76, but this season it has been all change at the back and so far only 12 goals have been conceded in the 10 games played so far this season.

That means that only 6 defences have let less goals in than Saints and two of them have only conceded a goal less. Indeed if we take out the opening day of the season when we conceded 3 at Everton we have been one of the tightest defences in the Premier League since aside from the top 3.

Last season we conceded an average of 1.79 goals per game, this season it is 1.2, given that six goals were conceded in just two games, the opener at Everton and away at Chelsea, it shows how good we have been in the other 8. Indeed 4 clean sheets in our last 7 Premier League games.

So what has changed from being a side that was full of errors lapses of concentration and just plain bad defending ?

The first thing is Saints shipped out Jannik Vestergaard and Ryan Bertrand, both were part of the problem and not part of the solution, Vestergaard's positional sense was awful and he was just slow to react both with his feet and with his head, Ryan Bertrand had been a great servant to Saints but he was stale and his drive had gone.

Both contributed to more than their fair share of poor defending that led to goals conceded.

Jan Bednarek along with Kyle Walker Peters was the only defender last season that emerged with some credit from the season and since forcing his way back into the side has put in some good displays.

Likewise Kyle Walker Peters , this has been a tough season for him in that the arrival of Tino Livramento has seen him ousted from the right back spot, but he has still done a good job at left back and would walk into most sides at right back.

Then there has been some astute signings, a few years ago poor business in the transfer market led to us being sidled with a lot of expensive signings on big money who either weren't performing for us or for that matter elsewhere out on loan.

But that changed and Mohammed Salisu last summer was a signing that took us back to what we have always done best, finding those under the radar gems, he took his time last season to settle but showed enough promise to suggest he would be first choice this season and that has been the case.

Now his performances are bringing comparisons to Virgil Van Dijk, he can read a game and stop attacks before they build up steam, he has a turn of pace and he can carry the ball forward.

But this summer has also seen some new blood in the defence, Tino Livramento needs little praise from me, his displays have said it all, he has been one of the best signings we have made since we returned to the Premier League.

Romain Perraud arrived at the club and has let no one down, if we had not signed Tino, KWP would have played 10 games at right back and Perraud would have done the same on the left, it shows the strength in depth we have now in defence.

Lyanco has not played a lot yet, but his performance at Chelsea in the League Cup was immense and he will be an asset to the team, that was the case at Watford when Ralph was able to bring him on for the 4 minutes of injury time to help close the game down and ensure that we didn't fall foul of the late goals we have been prone to in the past.

The strength of the defence now has brought out the best in three players who have not been able to command regular games in the past couple of seasons, Jack Stephens played in the first 5 Premier League games and with some good players around him did a job.

Likewise both Alex McCarthy and Fraser Forster have looked a lot better with defenders in front of them who keep it tight, keepers need to know what their defenders are going to do in a given situation and vice versa, things aren't perfect yet, but they are much much better than last season.

More good news in that in the B side in Dynel Simeu and Thierry Small we have two defenders signed from Chelsea who are likely to be as good as Tino Livramento, I would expect them to break into the side at some point this season, perhaps not as regulars just yet, but they have the potential like Salisu to cut their teeth gradually this season and burst on to the scene next year as regulars.

Ralph Hasenhuttl has come in for a lot of stick from some quarters and I will concede that there is a long way to go yet in the season, but those that were writing him off a month or so ago after only a handful of games, should at least give him some credit for the handful of games since.

Since that opening day defeat at Everton we have lost just twice in the next 9, yes there should have been a win or two more but it has been solid with just two defeats, one of them to League leaders Chelsea.

Slowly but surely we have built a team to compete and good teams are built on being solid at the back, that has not been the case for the last 4 years since Jose Fonte & Virgil Van Dyke left, but now for the first time since then we can look at having a back line that can defend.

But it has come at a cost, teams at the top can usually attack as well as they can defend, but we have had to sacrifice pouring forward at every opportunity to keep it tight at the back, the two wins against Leeds and Watford were achieved in this manner, getting a goal and then making sure we didn't concede at the other end.

Last season in both games we would have poured forward and then got caught on the break, this time we are tighter.

We now just need to start taking our chances more, we need to start putting away the easy ones and putting games to bed.

Losing Danny Ings was a blow, but we have effectively replaced him with two players, last season Che Adams got 9 goals in the Premier League and Ings 12, so the target is for Adams to match last season's total and then Adam Armstrong and Armando Broja to get more than 12 goals between them.

So far they have got 3 out of 10 games, so they are just about on target to match Ings, but if they can forge ahead in that target then it can only benefit Saints ion the field.

Adam Armstrong created a lot of chances for himself at Watford with his hard work, he just couldn't get a shot on target, but he wasn't far away, if he gets one then I think he is capable of getting into double figures this season, likewise Broja and Adams and if they all could manage that, then it could be an interesting season.

There has been an air of doom and gloom in some supporters, but the last few games have gone a long way in dispelling that, yes as I have said there is a long way to go, but if you can condemn a team and manager after two bad results then you can certainly praise them after three good ones.

There is light at the end of the tunnel now, we can see a team emerging, something that we couldn't for the past couple of years as we had to mix and match and plug gaps, now we have a squad of experienced professionals, with some promising youngsters in the background, the purse strings have loosened as we get the last of the high earners off our books and that has enabled us to spend again, but we are spending wisely these days.

There could be a signing or two in January to strengthen, but we don't need a lot at the moment, the confidence is growing and the future looks brighter.

Photo: Action Images

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PaleRider added 10:20 - Nov 2
I believe we have some reason for optimism. I like the fact that the team now seem to fight rather than roll over and die but we still desperately need a leader on the pitch - especially as we have some very talented young players. This season is about building a strong foundation and if we could buy Broja, even with a buy back clause, that would be great.

SaintNick added 11:29 - Nov 2
I agree we still need a leader, it will be interesting what Chelsea's position is on Broja come the end of the season, will there be room for him in their squad, but if he is successful here like many at Chelsea before he will be priced out of our range

davidargyll added 12:29 - Nov 2
You are so right; scoring is important but season after season the best teams are the ones who have the best defences and concede the least number of goals.
I have no doubt that one reason why Danny Ings wanted to leave was that, no matter how hard he worked and scored, it was all for nought as we shipped so many behind him. There is nothing more confidence-busting than to feel that all your efforts are wasted by useless defending.
And of course the opposite is also true, which is why our forwards are playing so much better and will be scoring soon; their confidence is high because they have a solid defence behind them.

Farlow added 12:31 - Nov 2
I am sure Lyanco will be the leader we need.If Simeu and Small get any where Tinos standard we,ll get into Europe.

pwithers123 added 13:48 - Nov 2
Great Summary - The change in the defence and the change in quality of new signings is another reason why Hassenhutl deserves credit. To achieve that with the very tight budget and the high salaries of non performing players is major achievement.

underweststand added 15:24 - Nov 2
Interesting article which could have been easier summed up with just the headline (Nick).

A closer look at the stats. shows that only 6 teams in the Prem. have conceded less goals, and only Norwich have scored less than we have. Any of our 5 drawn games would have been 3 pointers with better shooting, and a fair deal from VAR with a penalty of two.

Even you would admit that Jack Stephens was playing well before his injury, and although Bednarek has been a bit in-and-out, both Salisu and Lyanco are beginning to look like the real deal.

The strikers have all had those horrific, long dry spells but sooner rather than later, I think we will slaughter one side when more of the the shots go in - and they count.
Broja has had a great start, but both Ché and Adam have had the worst luck - all at once.

Overall, we've seen a lot of good football, with not much more to show for it. A few good results will see us in the top half, and with the back-up of a good squad on hand for emergencies.


KriSaint added 15:21 - Nov 3
Great article and comments. I can only add that, very likely, either Bednarek will get better from being challenged by Lyanco OR Lyanco will eventually take Bednareks place.
Good signing, Lyanco, I believe.

Have we got any useless high-earners left in our squad? Probably not, at least not at the minute, I think.

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