Andover’s nearest Premier League football club, Southampton, have a midwinter injury crisis on their hands but Austrian manager Ralph Hasenhüttl is rolling with the punches.
The Saints sit in the relatively lofty position of ninth in the table after 18 matches. They begin the second half of the season in the top half of the table, then, and that represents progress on last term’s eleventh place finish.
In the two years since he landed the St Mary’s hotseat, Hasenhüttl has steered the club away from relegation trouble into the comfort of mid-table. Despite their current woes there is every confidence from a betting perspective that Southampton will record a top ten finish to the season with their 2020/2021 Premier League odds for that set at 2/5.
Hasenhüttl’s fine work with the Saints isn’t going unnoticed either. Rumours have been circulating about one of Germany’s big football clubs, Borussia Dortmund, having tentative interest in his services as they seek a permanent replacement for Lucien Favre, who was sacked mid-season.
Fellow Austrian coaches Oliver Glasner and Adi Hütter are holding down jobs in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg and Eintracht Frankfurt respectively, where Hasenhüttl himself has plied his trade before. It is not unkind to make the observation that Southampton have been a selling club in recent years, with every player and manager – think Mauricio Pochettino – having their price.
In the more immediate future, Hasenhüttl is without Republic of Ireland youth international and Southampton academy graduate Will Smallbone, born just down the road from Andover in Basingstoke, for the rest of the season. He has picked up an ACL ligament injury, which means at least six months out.
The trials and tribulations of Premier League management is something Hasenhüttl has largely taken in his stride. There have been low points earlier in his reign, such as the 9-0 demolition by Leicester City at St Mary’s in October 2019.
On the upside, an international partnership with Ghanaian club Asante Kotoko was announced earlier this month. Linking up with one of Africa’s major teams could prove an interesting source of talent for the Saints, who are no strangers to signing players who hail from that continent or represent its nations.
Think Mali international Sadio Mane (now with reigning Premier League champions Liverpool), Kenya midfielder Victor Wanyama, and current Southampton first-team players Moussa Djenepo and Mohammed Salisu. While they had all made previous moves to Europe, unearthing some gems from Ghana would make the partnership even more worthwhile.
There is plenty going on at Southampton under Hasenhüttl, who will be looking to see out 100 games in charge of a club for the first time. A relative unknown before getting Ingolstadt promoted to the Bundesliga in 2015, he has achieved so much in the five-and-a-half years since then.
Hasenhüttl led former club RB Leipzig into Europe for the first time, where he had current Premier League players Naby Keita and Timo Werner in the spine of his side. If Southampton have better luck with injuries, he could even mastermind something similar.
Feature picture source – Nathan Rogers via Unsplash