Ralph Hasenhuttl: Southampton boss says club ‘back on track’ and reveals how Armando Broja can make ‘statement’ | Football News

At the end of the 2016/17 season, confidence was high at Southampton. A fourth successive top-10 Premier League finish had just been secured, as had a first appearance in a major final for 14 years.

The club was impressing off the field too, with smart dealings in recent transfer windows seeing the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane join the club for what turned out to be bargain prices.

But fast forward 18 months and the wheels had come off. Mauricio Pellegrino – who replaced Claude Puel in the summer of 2017 – had been sacked after less than a year in charge and replaced by Mark Hughes amid an unforeseen relegation battle.

The Welshman just about kept Southampton up, but was then himself dismissed with the club once again facing up to the prospect of dropping into the Championship.

Just as concerning were Southampton’s uncharacteristic failures in the transfer market. Mario Lemina, Wesley Hoedt and Guido Carrillo – signed during Pellegrino’s tenure for a combined £54m – all flopped before being sent away from St Mary’s on a series of loan moves.

Looking back, it’s no surprise that Ralph Hasenhuttl feels Southampton “lost track” during this time. The Austrian replaced Hughes in December 2018 and immediately set about helping the club rediscover its identity.

Saturday 22nd January 5:00pm

Kick off 5:30pm

Hasenhuttl kept Southampton up in 2018/19 and they have not flirted with relegation since. They have also rediscovered their touch in the transfer market, with players such as Kyle Walker-Peters, Che Adams and Tino Livramento all impressing since arriving under Hasenhuttl’s watch.

“This club lost this track for one or two years, maybe three years ago, but now we are fully back in this track,” Hasenhuttl tells Sky Sports in an exclusive interview. “I think it helps us to create these kinds of players, and no matter how long they are with us, this is a very healthy way of developing this club.

“What is the difference now is that we can maybe jump earlier on these talented players. The longer we have them, the better they will play football in the future.”

One player who is certainly helping to develop Southampton – and his own reputation – is Armando Broja, the 20-year-old Albanian striker brought in on loan from Chelsea last summer.

With just one appearance in English football before arriving at St Mary’s, Broja was a relative unknown but he has quickly set about changing that. He is Southampton’s top scorer across all competitions, while only Emile Smith Rowe of Arsenal and England has scored more goals per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season.

Armando Broja

With such impressive statistics and a host of of clubs – including Southampton – interested in signing him at the end of the season, it would be easy to think that Broja immediately caught Hasenhuttl’s attention after arriving at St Mary’s. But that was not the case.

“To be honest, the impression he has given me in the games is a higher one than in the sessions,” admitted the manager. “He was a slow starter here. He took time to adapt to our intense way of playing but he is getting better and he learned a lot.

“The young players need time. We need to let them make mistakes and learn from these.

“This ability he has and behaviour he shows is important because we are a hard-working club and if you want to perform here, you have to work hard for this team. This is what he’s had to learn since he’s here and it helps his development.”

He’s super convinced about himself – that’s never a problem for a striker. But he is a player that can create chances by himself and score goals by himself. This is a weapon that not a lot of players have.

Ralph Hasenhuttl on Armando Broja

Broja’s form at Southampton has seen him score more Premier League goals per 90 minutes than any forward at his parent club this season, and Chelsea head coach Thomas Tuchel has urged him to continue to make a “statement” during the second half of the campaign.

Doing so is “very simple”, says Hasenhuttl. “Showing good performances every week, and when you get the chance to play, help the team win games,” he said.

“He must – besides his scoring and creating chances – work against the ball. This is what you have to do at Southampton.

“Thomas is absolutely right – he’s a young player who still has to learn a lot. We try to calm down things because we don’t want that he loses focus.

“He’s super convinced about himself – that’s never a problem for a striker. But he is a player that can create chances by himself and score goals by himself. This is a weapon that not a lot of players have.”

Whether Broja is able to displace the likes of Romelu Lukaku and make the grade at Chelsea is down to him, believes Hasenhuttl. “Every player has the ability when he’s really working hard,” he said. “You can push the limits as high as you want.

“The natural-born speed he has is good for a striker, and the rest you can learn. He has gone through a very good school at Chelsea.”

Even if Southampton are unable to convince Chelsea to let Broja stay, the future looks bright at St Mary’s, particularly after the club’s takeover earlier this month led by Dragan Solak.

Hasenhuttl believes the early signs are encouraging, saying: “We met each other and spoke about our philosophy and about their targets.

“We are absolutely on the same page and it’s very good to see that they know exactly what Southampton should stand for. It gives us a good feeling for the future – that we are on the right track.

“They were kind about what they have seen so far from us and how far we are in our development as a club.

“That doesn’t mean we cannot change things or learn new things – we are always open-minded and try to learn and get better. As long as we have this mentality in this club, we will have a good future.”

But any thoughts of the future will be put on hold on Saturday, with Southampton hosting Manchester City – live on Sky Sports – and facing the daunting task of trying to end the champions’ 12-game winning streak in the Premier League.

However, the Saints can take confidence from the fact that their 0-0 draw at the Etihad in September makes them one of only two sides to have avoided defeat at City in the league this season.

Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola during the Premier League match at St Mary's Stadium, Southampton.
Saturday’s game will be the 10th meeting between Hasenhuttl and Pep Guardiola – the Austrian has faced no other manager on more occasions

“Let’s keep them to us,” says Hasenhuttl when asked what the secret to his side nullifying City was, but he was more forthcoming when discussing why he enjoys the challenge of facing Pep Guardiola, who he has beaten just once in nine attempts.

“The whole week preparing for this game is a very interesting one,” explains Hasenhuttl. “It’s so hard to find a game plan. They have for nearly everything a solution and you need to find ways to defend and find ways to stress them.

“This is a super tough challenge but this is also what makes our jobs so interesting – to find solutions, to work on some things where you can maybe surprise them a little bit.”

Hasenhuttl is 54 and has worked as a manager for 15 years, but he admits he becomes a student again when he faces Guardiola.

“I have a very high opinion about Pep – I’ve learned a lot from him,” he said. “You can learn a lot from this possession-based game.

“Not a lot of weaknesses – this is the sign of a fantastic manager.”

Watch Southampton vs Manchester City live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm on Saturday – kick-off 5:30pm.

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