It was a great day for Southampton fans as their team travelled home bringing all three points along with them. Two substitutes left their mark on the field as Moussa Djenepo scored the opening goal and Sofiane Boufal set up Nathan Redmond’s goal. A positive win was exactly what Ralph Hasenhüttl and his side were looking for and they have done just that.
The Saints lined up in Hasenhüttl’s favourite 4-2-2-2 formation that saw Kevin Danso made his debut on the left-hand side. Ryan Bertrand was recovering from his injury and didn’t make the squad, while Maya Yoshida dropped to the bench. Upfront, Ché Adams and Danny Ings paired up once again as the team’s main strikers.
Graham Potter chose a 3-4-3 formation for the visit of the Saints. Dan Burn completed their back three alongside Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy. Martín Montoya and Solly March played just below two new signings Neil Maupay and Leandro Trossard. Leading the line for Brighton in this match was Florin Andone while Pascal Groß and Glenn Murray were on the bench.
Entering the game, Southampton immediately applied pressure on the home side by pushing forward and pressing Brighton. While Nathan Redmond, James Ward-Prowse and Ings followed the centre-backs, Adams closed down Mat Ryan and prevented him from making short distributions. This prevented the opposite team from playing out from the back and forced them to look for other build-up methods.
When the opposition moved the ball into Southampton’s defensive third, the away side would form a 5-4-1 defensive structure. From his original position, Danso tucked inside and turned into a right centre-back with his spot being occupied by Redmond. They kept the similar defensive principles from the last matches, creating overloads on both wings and preventing Brighton from making through balls or passes into the box.
They also stretched their defensive shape a bit wider and filled in the half-spaces. Since Brighton also focused on attacking down both wings, the pace of their wingers and wing-backs would be crucial for them. Whenever Montoya or March overlapped, there would be at least two players closed them down. If the wingers decided to stick out wide to support them, a central midfielder moved into that area and maintained the overload that they created.
For Brighton, they also adopted their pressing strategy but would rather be conservative in aiming to win the ball back. The strikers pushed high and prevented Southampton defenders from circulating the ball among themselves. Using their pace, they could recover possession and create a counter-attack immediately.
But Andone’s red card in the 30th minute had really changed the way the home side approached the game. They focused on defending deep and only triggered the press when Southampton players entered their half. By using a back five and two central midfielders, they limited the ways that the opposition could enter the 16-yard box. Furthermore, it forced the players to make long shots and some of them eventually went wide.
On the attack, they used short combinations between the attackers and the midfielders to bypass the pressure from Southampton players. Whenever one received the ball, they looked for potential receivers immediately. After laying the ball for his teammate, he made a progressive run into the final third and positioned in free space to turn himself into a passing option once again.
Potter’s side did come close once inside the first half from Dunk’s header. The situation began from Trossard’s corner on the right-hand side which the Belgium winger whipped it inside the box. He found Dunk, who was unmarked, and the centre-back headed home. There was a slight delay when Southampton players started to appeal for the goal. After the referee checked the VAR, the goal was denied because one of Brighton player was offside.
The first half ended with the two sides level. But Hasenhüttl remained the superior team in numbers and how they played on the field. That gave them the momentum to build on what they did inside the second period.
Both teams played with their strategy at the start of the second half as no changes were made to the squads. At times, Brighton wanted to push higher and tried to look for goals. It somewhat countered them as this left the defensive line vulnerable and allowed Southampton attackers to outnumber the centre-backs.
While strikers like Maupay and Trossard lacked a bit of luck in their quest of finding that opening goal, Southampton got what they needed in the 54th minute. From a counter-attack down the right-hand side, Ings found substitute Djenepo making a run into the final third. He picked him out with a lofted ball and allowed the Malian winger to dribble towards the box. But when Djenepo reached the edge of it, he placed his shot into the top right corner and Ryan had no chance of stopping the shot.
With a goal in hand, The Saints continued to push up and increased their attacking pressure on Brighton. They used crosses into the box from both flanks after distributing the ball wide from the back. Valery and Djenepo had the pace to make runs up the pitch and recovered from their positions for a defensive situation.
The players also retained more of the possession which allowed them to be flexible in creating attacks. Besides from lowering the game’s tempo, they attempted to work the ball into the box through short passes and through balls. Meanwhile, Brighton had to push forward and looked for a consolation goal during the remaining minutes. Again, their problem was their shots constantly went wide or being blocked by Southampton defenders. Jürgen Locadia had the greatest of chances when he received the ball at the near corner from Trossard’s corner, but Bednarek reached there and blocked the shot.
When the game was heading into the first minute of the stoppage time, Boufal made his mark by dribbling through Brighton defenders and made a low cross for Redmond’s tap-in. That goal would eventually seal the game for Southampton as they returned to St. Mary’s Stadium with their first points this season.
Although the first half wasn’t fascinating as some fans expected it to, a few words from Hasenhüttl during the break really helped the team to step up their form. Two goals were the perfect reward for their efforts not just in the game, but also in the last couple of months. A long season is still waiting ahead of us and with the positive signs that were shown today, we could be excited with Hasenhüttl’s first full season with Southampton.