For all Ralph Hasenhuttl’s charisma and desire to attack in his new job, this disappointing Southampton defeat at home to an injury-stricken West Ham proved to the St. Mary’s crowd that their manager, and his team, have much to learn.
Hasenhuttl has charmed Southampton’s fans, buying season-ticket holders a beer before the shock victory over Arsenal earlier this month, but here he was tactically outshone by Manuel Pelligrini, whose West Ham side were missing a number of key attacking players.
Southampton themselves are short of quality going forward, but it’s not a case of misfortune in the physio room, only poor recruitment.
It didn’t take Southampton long to showcase their new-found attacking verve. Nathan Redmond first tested Fabianski inside two minutes, before Danny Ings poked wide having created space in the box.
But for all Hasenhuttl’s will to improve his side’s attacking fortunes, the fact remains that Southampton are a team distinctly lacking in technical quality going forward.
This defeat should serve as a worrying warning to the Southampton board that despite the gem they seemed to have uncovered in Hasenhuttl, the Austrian himself is not capable of turning the water of the Saints’ current attacking stocks into the wine of yesteryear when Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic were dominating defences at St. Mary’s.
When Southampton took the lead, it looked as if their swashbuckling form would continue.
After West Ham inexplicably failed to clear Stuart Armstrong’s header, Redmond was played onside by Grady Diangana. The winger’s shot was brilliantly saved by Fabianski before Redmond recovered to scramble the ball home past a helpless goalkeeper.
If Redmond’s goal was the horrific New Year’s Day hangover, Felipe Anderson’s equalizer was the flourishing party of the night before.
After a difficult start to the season, the Brazilian has prospered in recent weeks and his form has helped to power West Ham up the table. Anderson’s leveller was a brilliantly struck effort from outside the box, and his aptitude for a long-shot has become a useful weapon for Manuel Pellegrini’s men.
Stuart Armstrong threatened to score the Saints’ second with an equally spectacular effort, but Fabianski was equal to his curling shot and palmed the ball behind.
From the resulting corner, Southampton were left horrifically exposed at the back, and Michail Antonio drove downfield on the counter-attack, before firing the ball across to Anderson who curled the ball past McCarthy.
Anderson shouldered much of the attacking expectation with talisman Marko Arnautovic out injured, and the winger came to the fore with great effect.
He was a constant threat running in behind a laboured Saints defence, and the Brazilian looks to have played a masterstroke in joining a West Ham team who appear to be making solid progress in their bid to become the ‘best of the rest’ in a Premier League where the division is consistently dominated by the superpowers of the top six.
Anderson and the other summer recruits have strengthened West Ham, but the excitement at the London Stadium surrounds the stealthy core of young players who the new signings will only improve – Declan Rice is developing into a world-class holding midfielder; Grady Diangana is ensuring that Arnautovic’s absence is not so keenly felt.
With five wins from six and games against Burnley and Brighton to come, the palpable sense that West Ham are becoming a difficult proposition for teams across the Premier League should only be furthered in the coming weeks.
Hasenhuttl has revived Southampton’s fortunes in recent weeks, but with their next four games against teams in the top eight, the Austrian will have to adapt quickly to ensure that this stumbling block doesn’t prove to be a harmful one.