Former Southampton midfielder Dean Hammond has suggested that Mohammed Salisu proved against Chelsea that he is ready to battle for his place in the starting line-up and that he can offer Ralph Hasenhuttl the option to adapt the team’s shape.
Salisu came into the team for his first Premier League start on Saturday, partnering Jannik Vestergaard as Jan Bednarek was switched to right-back in the absence of Kyle Walker-Peters. The 21-year-old stood up well to pressure from the visitors, making four clearances and winning three tackles (Sofascore) to help Southampton pick up a point.
That performance saw him earn a special mention from Hasenhuttl after the game, with the Austrian describing him as a ‘real defender’ and also praising his quality and calmness in possession to help the Saints play out under pressure at times. Considering he has been affected by injury issues and also not been deemed ready earlier on in the season, this should be very encouraging for the young defender.
Speaking to Hampshire Live, Hammond suggested that he saw enough from Salisu to believe he has the ability to perform in the Premier League, praising the way he dealt with Tammy Abraham in particular. He also believes that the Ghanaian’s presence and ability to cover the left-hand side means that Hasenhuttl could change systems to more of a back three if desired. Hammond said of Salisu:
He did well for such a young man and a player making his first appearance. He read the game really well and his positing in the box was good.
Abraham going off means he was obviously doing something right. I remember one moment where Abraham tried to get down the side of him and he held him off, turned on his left foot and won the free-kick.
He looked confident in that position with his left football and he won his headers. It just shows, if Ralph wants to change the shape, that left-footed centre-half offers that. He will be looking to stay in the team and continue that.
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Salisu was an impressive figure for the Saints against Chelsea and he was able to deliver a performance which, as Hammond has said, suggests he is ready for regular starts in the Premier League. The 21-year-old’s continued absences following his £10.9m move had been baffling, but his recent displays are showing that Hasenhuttl was right to ease him in.
The defender’s arrival onto the scene is vital considering that the Saints are down on numbers and are missing the influential presence of Walker-Peters. Bednarek was deployed at right-back against Chelsea, but Salisu might now provide the option for Hasenhuttl to switch to more of a 3-4-3 formation as he has used in the past.
Having that tactical flexibility is very important as Hasenhuttl will likely need to come up with different methods of getting Southampton back to winning ways. It will be interesting to see if he persists with Salisu over the coming weeks.