If someone had told us back in October that we’d be talking up Southampton defensive assets by January, we would have assumed you were joking.
But here we are, nonetheless, on the verge of considering Saints defenders for our Fantasy Premier League teams.
Several months after the heaviest home defeat in their history, and the worst defensive showing this author has seen on any football pitch at any level, Ralph Hasenhüttl has completely transformed Southampton in one of the most impressive turnarounds we’ve seen in recent years.
With price depreciation naturally occurring across the Saints squad so far, Fantasy managers are now taking a look at the options available in Hampshire with great interest.
We have taken a closer look at their recent form to see if they truly are worth investing in.
As this article uses data from the Fantasy Football Scout Members Area, only those who have signed up for the full 2019/20 season, a monthly pass or a discounted package can access it in full.
What has Hasenhüttl changed?
The cause of Southampton’s recent defensive success can find its roots in a switch from a three-man defence to a back-four some point after that (in)famous defeat at Leicester – as well as a newfound consistency in team selection.
Hasenhüttl came into 2019/20 still a big fan of a three-man defence and flexible attacking formations around that base.
He used a 3-4-2-1 in Gameweeks 1, 5, 7, 9 and 12, a 3-5-2 was rolled out in Gameweeks 2 and 10 and a 5-3-2 in Gameweek 11.
The Austrian did dabble with back-fours at various stages, using a 4-4-2 in Gameweeks 3 and 4, a 4-2-3-1 in Gameweek 6 and a 4-3-3 in Gameweek 8.
However, the biggest issue, as you can probably tell, stemmed from the fact that his side was never settled.
Even when a back-four was used, there were some questionable decisions made about which players would occupy which positions, especially at full-back – although injuries did not exactly help.
(Personnel included when a back-four)
- GW1: 3-4-2-1
- GW2: 3-5-2
- GW3: 4-4-2 (L-R: Danso, Vestergaard, Bednarek, Valery)
- GW4: 4-4-2 (L-R: Danso, Vestergaard, Bednarek, Cédric)
- GW5: 3-4-2-1
- GW6: 4-2-3-1 (L-R: Cédric, Vestergaard, Bednarek, Danso)
- GW7: 3-4-1-2
- GW8: 4-3-3 (L-R: Bertrand, Yoshida, Bednarek, Valery)
- GW9: 3-4-2-1
- GW10: 3-5-2
- GW11: 5-3-2
- GW12: 3-4-2-1
As we all know, Southampton’s defence was one of the most porous in the Premier League during this period, epitomised by their humiliating 9-0 defeat at home to Leicester in Gameweek 10.
Still, it was not until the Gameweek 12 home defeat to Everton that the death knell was sounded for Hasenhüttl’s initial tactics with a brand new version of 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 system debuted on the trip to Arsenal – which ended in a morale-boosting 2-2 draw.
This was the first match that Hasenhüttl selected a back-four consisting of Ryan Bertrand (£4.8m) and Cédric Soares (£4.8m) as traditional full-backs either side of Jan Bednarek (£4.4m) and Jack Stephens (£4.3m) in a two-man centre-back partnership.
These four players have been the first-choice defenders for each of the last 10 matches in a row and the team has arguably been much better for the consistency – each outing seeing them receiving protection from the same pair of central midfielders too in Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (£4.8m) and James Ward-Prowse (£5.8m).
It would still take some time for the Saints to register their first clean sheet in this configuration, although from Gameweek 14 onwards they only let in more than one goal on one occasion, the 2-1 defeat at Newcastle in Gameweek 16.
It is over the last four matches that Southampton’s improvements have really come to the fore, with clean sheets kept against Chelsea (Gameweek 19) and Spurs (Gameweek 21) while Leicester were successfully neutralised at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.
In fact, as was widely reported, the Premier League’s Golden Boot front-runner and 2019/20’s shot-volume king Jamie Vardy (£10.0m) was restricted to a grand total of zero attempts on goal in Gameweek 22.
In order to find out whether this recent upturn in clean sheets is sustainable, and therefore a reliable source of points for Fantasy managers, we are digging even deeper, into the underlying statistics behind Southampton’s defence this season.
What does the underlying data say?
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