FRANCIS BENALI: Ralph Hasenhuttl's secret formula has sparked Southampton's surge to the top

FRANCIS BENALI: Ralph Hasenhuttl's secret formula has sparked Southampton's surge to the top

Leicester, again. Opponents who remind me of my only goal in 389 games for Southampton. Although for Ralph Hasenhuttl, and many Saints fans, they will be a reminder of a 9-0 defeat when they face each on Saturday night.

That result proved an unlikely catalyst. Everyone at the club will tell you it was a turning point. They realised they had to pull together and bounce back.

We are seeing the culmination of all that this season, reaching the top of the Premier League in November for the first time since 1985 and achieving terrific results such as the victory against Liverpool.

There is no doubt Ralph is the figurehead and a big presence.

But there is real strength in the unity he has created and the support and input from his staff, his right-hand man Richard Kitzbichler and key coaches Kelvin Davis, Craig Fleming and Dave Watson.

It is a combined effort to implement the philosophy from Ralph's 'Playbook' — drawn up during the first lockdown to identify the responsibilities of each player, and what is expected of them in specific situations.

There's a high level of detail involved. Sometimes, in my day, we went into games just hoping we'd play better than the other team. The modern approach could not be more different.

At Southampton, from what I can tell, the hours are long. There is a lot of analysis and many meetings. Ralph is obsessive. It can be quite intense, but in the nicest possible way.

He told the players there were no days off if they were in the bottom three. But it was more to reinforce the need to work than a form of punishment. Players have taken it in. We've seen them maturing into their roles in the squad.

James Ward-Prowse has grown into the captaincy. When he was on the fringes, he asked Ralph what he needed to do to get in his team. He was told to be more aggressive, get tackles in and be a presence in midfield.

He had to contribute in areas other than his set-pieces. We all know how good he is at those. James had the personality and character to find out what he had to do, and the intelligence to implement what he was told. Now he's a leader in that dressing room and a very good captain on the pitch. Personality and character. It is important, and a big part of the recruitment strategy. There has to be talent, of course, but players have to be open to apply Ralph's philosophy.

Kyle Walker-Peters has flourished since coming from Tottenham. Perhaps he feels he has something to prove. He has been outstanding and is such a nice guy who will do anything for the team.

Questions were asked when Danny Ings was out injured and it is testament to others that it didn't disrupt things too much. Players stepped in and everyone knew what was required.

You will always miss Danny's goals and influence and he is currently in self-isolation after a positive Covid test. His quality is without question. The goal against Liverpool was the perfect example. Focus, awareness and finishing ability.

He is a leader in the same way Matt Le Tissier was, through performances and delivering when it really matters.

Like Theo Walcott, he is back at his boyhood club. They know the club's values and have an affinity with Saints. There's a healthy spirit inside the club and, as Southampton have shown over the decades, if you have the right spirit you can defy expectations. Just as they did against Liverpool. You could see how much it meant to Ralph.

His emotional reaction at the final whistle was probably the result of trying to keep the champions at bay for 88 minutes. That's no mean feat. And coupled with his absence from the West Ham game, because of what turned out to be a false positive Covid test in his household.

I was watching nervously against Liverpool. It was a great win and I would rather see the boss show passion and emotion like that than stand there stoney-faced when his team are doing everything he is asking of them.


Original Story on: GhanaSoccernet

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