After a very bright start to the season, Southampton have struggled over the past few weeks with just one Premier League win since December 13, 2020 – the January transfer window would be important for the Saints.
Southampton boss Ralph Hassenhuttl likes his teams to play fast-paced, high-pressing football and in a season like no other, due to COVID-19, this has been particularly difficult to sustain. Injuries have also ruptured through the Austrian’s already small squad which have led to a significant drop-off in performances and, perhaps more importantly, results.
Southampton January Business Reviewed
Southampton Fail to Add Players in Key Areas During January Transfer Window
With the lack of depth in the Southampton ranks, it seemed as though the priority would be getting players in to allow greater options in several areas. However, if anything, the club did the opposite. Shane Long was allowed to join fellow south-coast club Bournemouth on deadline day. Yan Valery also departed to join Birmingham City on loan on deadline day, while Jake Vokins joined Sunderland on loan just days earlier.
Earlier in the window, youngster Callum Slattery had also been allowed to leave on loan to Gillingham. Takumi Minamino was the only incoming for the Saints in the January transfer window, with the Liverpool man joining on a loan deal until the end of the season.
Hassenhuttl is rarely one to complain but he had been reasonably vocal about his desire for the club to bring in some players this window. The Southampton bench in recent weeks has been made up almost entirely of untried youth players, meaning that there has been very little opportunity for rotation in a heavily congested winter period.
Following defeat to Aston Villa, the Southampton manager boss bemoaned his shallow squad, stating: “If it is up to me I take ten players now. It is not possible for us. We brought Jankewitz in and next young lad who has to play against Man United from the beginning.”
The main area that Hassenhuttl wanted to strengthen was full-back, with Kyle Walker-Peters and Ryan Bertrand lacking competition in those areas. It may seem strange then that Southampton allowed both Valery and Vokins to go out on loan. However, Hassenhuttl was far from impressed when injury and suspension to Walker-Peters and Bertrand meant that both Valery and Vokins had to start in the 3-1 league defeat to Arsenal. Valery, in particular, was especially poor that night and, after bursting into the team when Hassenhuttl first arrived in England, has never looked a Premier League quality player since.
The club have been linked to a move for Manchester United full-back Brandon Williams since the summer, with his ability to play both right and left-back particularly desirable. However, Williams stayed at United with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keen to keep hold of him, despite the 20-year-old only being given just one Premier League appearance this season.
As the 11pm transfer deadline loomed closer, Arsenal’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles was linked and again his versatility would have piqued Southampton’s interest, with Maitland-Niles’ ability to play in either full-back position or central midfield; another position in which Southampton are light on numbers. However, Maitland-Niles instead joined West Bromwich Albion on deadline day, leaving the Saints with just two full-backs in their squad.
Shane Long Unlikely to be Missed at Southampton
Shane Long’s departure to Bournemouth on deadline came as something as a surprise due to the depleted numbers in Southampton’s squad. His contract was set to expire at the end of the 2019/20 season but the club deemed him worthy of a new deal as he has been a worth servant to Southampton.
However, it is in attack where Southampton probably have the most options with everyone fit and Long has slipped down to fourth choice recently due to the emergence of 21-year-old striker Dan N’Lundulu. He is perhaps even fifth choice when you consider that loanee Theo Walcott has often been deployed up front since his return to his hometown club.
When Long has played this season, he has been poor and lacked any real impact. The Ireland international forged a career on hard-work and high energy forward play that compensated for his lack of goals, but at 34 his ability to do this has, understandably, diminished.
The One Transfer Arrival in Minamino Could Provide Creative Spark
The loan arrival of Japanese international Takumi Minamino from Liverpool seemed to come from nowhere. Southampton had not been linked with the attacking midfielder at any point in the window, and yet he arrived to bolster Hassenhuttl’s forward options.
Minamino arrived at Liverpool after impressing against them while playing for RB Salzburg in the Champions League group stages in the 2019/20 season. He has found opportunities difficult to come by on the red side of Merseyside, though, and this move could provide a real opportunity to make a mark in English football.
While Southampton have been impressive this season, their recent issues have been as much in attack as in defence. The club have only managed a measly three goals in their last eight Premier League games. This can partly be played on the absence of star striker Danny Ings, but the problem is deeper rooted than just Ings. The side lack creativity. The high tempo approach often yields chances and the inverted wingers cause opposition defences a whole manner of problems, especially in transition.
However, when the pace of a game is slowed down, often due to opposition tactics, Saints struggle to break teams down. This problem has been exacerbated recently due to injuries, with Danny Ings, Nathan Redmond, Moussa Djenepo, Oriol Romeu and Jannick Vestergaard all notable absentees for periods of the season.
What Minamino brings is a creative spark. He has been bereft of chances to display this at Liverpool, with the club blessed with attacking talent, and will arrive on the south coast with a point to prove. If he can get to grips with Hassenhuttl’s high energy pressing, and with Jurgen Klopp as his parent club’s manager he should, he could hit the ground running. It is unclear whether Hassenhuttl sees Minamino as one of his number 10-winger hybrids in the mould of Stuart Armstrong or as a forward who could accompany Danny Ings or Che Adams.
Whichever position he is utilised in, it appears Hassenhuttl is excited to work with the man who scored 42 league goals over five years at RB Salzburg, winning the title in each of his seasons in Austria. Speaking on the late deal, Hassenhuttl told Southampton’s club website: “He will provide another good attacking option, and is importantly the right profile of player for us. This will give us some additional depth in our squad at an important time, and I am looking forward to working with him on the training pitch.”
Poor Transfer Window for Southampton
While the arrival of Minamino may provide some Southampton fans with optimism, it is hard to see past the club’s failure to provide Hassenhuttl with the players he so desperately needs. Leaving the club with two full-backs is terrible planning and begs the question, should the club have sold Matt Targett to Aston Villa last season? At the time Targett was pushing for regular first-team football and Southampton couldn’t offer him that with Ryan Bertrand at the club. The club also had high hopes for Jake Vokins, but with the 20-year-old shipped out to Sunderland, it appears Southampton are accepting this faith may have been misplaced.
Given Walker-Peters’ recent quad injury, Southampton will have everything crossed that he can stay fit or they could be in real trouble. Against Aston Villa, James Ward-Prowse deputised at right-back, where he has done a reasonable job previously. However, against arguably the worst player you could face in this scenario, Jack Grealish, the Southampton captain struggled. His presence is also so desperately missed in midfield if he has to cover at right-back and it is a situation which the club will be keen to avoid where possible.
Hassenhuttl cannot be blamed for any frustrations he has. The ‘Alpine Klopp’ has worked hard to implement his philosophy at a club which had lost direction and completely changed the club’s fortunes. After a positive start to the season, the Saints even sat briefly at the summit of the Premier League following a 2-0 victory over Newcastle United in early November.
Southampton fans have grown accustomed to looking over their shoulder in recent seasons rather than up the table, and yet Hassenhuttl’s infectious positivity has materialised into results. However, with the squad hit by injuries and the lack of investment in the transfer market, the good work in the first half of the season could well go to waste.
Hassenhuttl has proven many people wrong following the remarkable rise from the ashes of one of the club’s darkest days, a 9-0 home defeat to Leicester City in October 2019. A phone call from none other than Sir Alex Ferguson in the aftermath of the defeat is said to have encouraged Hassenhuttl to stick at it and he has reaped the rewards ever since. The former RB Leipzig manager has started to gain admiring glances from top clubs and if the board at Southampton continue to ignore his requests for players and withhold funds then it would be difficult to blame him for giving in to the courting of a top European side.