After a 9-0 spanking at home to Leicester City, having to travel to Manchester City twice was hardly the respite Southampton would have wanted.
Instead of being able to regroup and seek out some morale-boosting results, the Saints were immediately forced onto the backfoot at the Etihad. Although their second visit was far from the foregone conclusion many expected it to be, Pep Guardiola’s side still recorded two wins, leaving the visitors stranded in the bottom three and knocked out of the League Cup.
Overall, in the space of eight days, Southampton lost three matches, conceding a total of 14 goals and scoring just two. Defeat to Leicester was an ordeal for supporters and players, many of whom failed to demonstrate sufficient resilience and mental strength after Ryan Bertrand’s early red card. To be outclassed is one thing; to be outworked is quite another.
A significant measure of respectability was regained away to Manchester City, as Southampton refused to crumble when many were fearing the worst. They were close to securing a point on Saturday until Kyle Walker pounced with minutes remaining. Regardless, the pressure continues to mount on Ralph Hasenhuttl following a poor start to the season. Their last win in the league came back in September, thanks to Moussa Djenepo’s brilliant individual goal away to Sheffield United.
Stability has been lacking at St. Mary’s for too long and the temptation to change manager, while understandable, is misguided. Hasenhuttl should have sufficient credit in the bank from reinvigorating the club on his arrival last season to survive this difficult spell. It will pay to persevere with someone who has consistently demonstrated his ability to build teams that punch above their weight. Casting him aside would be reckless in the extreme.
Having won only once in 14 attempts under Mark Hughes last term, Southampton won four of Hasenhuttl’s first eight games in charge. That run included a rip-roaring 3-2 victory over Arsenal to kick-start a new era of more adventurous, high-pressing football. An unbeaten January helped them move clear of danger as he established a clear identity on the pitch and succeeded in getting the best out of players like Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse, who had badly lost their way under Hughes.
By the season’s end the Saints were five points clear of the relegation zone and supporters were dreaming of what Hasenhuttl could achieve with a full pre-season and the chance to properly reshape his squad. The top half, or perhaps even a push for Europe, seemed feasible following the arrivals of Che Adams, Danny Ings and Djenepo. Impressive pre-season results only bolstered that optimism.
While that hasn’t materialised, and confidence has undoubtedly suffered with recent results, it’s necessary to bear in mind that the table is particularly volatile in the early weeks of the season and, with the exception of Arsenal, Southampton have faced the rest of the big six already. Treat the Leicester game as an aberration and their results are largely unremarkable.
Hasenhuttl deserves to be given time. His track record demands it. In previous roles, he led unfashionable Ingolstadt to the Bundesliga for the first time and kept them there, before guiding newly-promoted RB Leipzig to second behind Bayern Munich. They acquitted themselves well in Europe and Hasenhuttl also supported the emergence of promising players like Naby Keita, Timo Werner and Emil Forsberg. His time in Germany ended with Leipzig in sixth as he was unwilling to keep the hot-seat warm while they identified a long-term replacement.
The Austrian has great pedigree and a progressive vision for how football should be played. He's well-suited to re-establishing the playing and recruitment model that served them so well when they first returned to the Premier League. The departure of Ronald Koeman led to a period of instability and some misguided appointments, but choosing to move on from Hasenhuttl so soon would be a big mistake.
The coming weeks could define Southampton’s season, with a series of games against other teams struggling towards the bottom of the table, including Everton, Watford, Norwich City and Newcastle United. Hasenhuttl deserves the chance to go into this favourable run of fixtures with the backing of the club’s hierarchy and the belief that he can turn things around.