Southampton will be hoping for a new coach when they face Liverpool on Saturday as the Reds look to finish the first half of their season in style.
Earlier this week, the Saints sacked long-time coach Ralph Hasenhutl after a convincing 4-1 defeat to Newcastle last weekend.
He has since been replaced by Nathan Jones, who arrives from Luton and will be in charge when Liverpool host the South Coast team in their last game before the World Cup break.
Only victory will suit Jurgen Klopp’s charges, as they hope to continue the 2-1 victory over Tottenham last Sunday.
Ahead of Saturday’s game, we spoke with Saints fan and writer Luke Osman (@lukeosman_) to discuss the seasons of both teams, Hasenhuttl, Jones and more.
How would you rate the start of the Saints season?
In general, it turned out very badly.
When Romeo Lavia was in good shape, the team functioned quite well and pushed the ball through the third, but in his absence the game was really bombastic.
Such dependence on an 18-year-old player, combined with the lack of a quality forward in the upper part of the field, led to the fact that the beginning of the season ended after a really positive first five games.
Ultimately, the nature of some of these defeats cost Hasenhuttl his job.
Was this the right time to fire him?
No, it should have happened earlier.
In the summer, the club decided to completely review the coaching staff of Hasenhüttl in order to give him one last opportunity to prove that with an updated squad and settings around him, he can stop our decline from March.
Unfortunately, looking back, summer was the right time to thank him for his efforts and say goodbye.
It quickly became apparent this season that everything was outdated, as is often the case with managers who spend a really decent four years at a Premier League club.
Many fans believe the trigger should have been pulled after the 2-1 home defeat to Everton last month, but the decision was postponed and now that Saints are in 18th place, the price has been paid.
Are you happy that Nathan Jones has replaced him?
I think it’s an incredibly big risk. He worked wonders at Luton and deserves huge credit for that, but his time at Stoke worries me — six wins out of 38 is hard to ignore.
I don’t think it’s a big stylistic departure from the way Saints played in the early days under Hasenhuttl, in the sense that the emphasis will be on intense work without the ball, a clear structure with and without possession, as well as on counterattacks. – attacking, but such examples from Jones happen only in the championship.
His temperament has made him somewhat unloved among a lot of fans, so it can be quite an interesting combination as he enters an environment that has been fragmented and divided for a long time.
Considering how protracted the process of replacing Hasenhüttl seemed while he was at the club, I was hoping for better than Jones, but now we have to support him.
Have any of the players shone or been particularly bad this season?
Armel Bella-Cotchap and Lavia, signed in the summer, are two of the most promising talents in the Premier League.
They both adapted very well to life in the division and they were the shining lights of Southampton.
Quite a few players have been bad this season—probably too many to name—but James Ward-Prowse, despite not performing as badly as some fans assumed, was well below his usual level.
Oriol Romeu’s departure has hit Saints hard, but no one has been hurt as visibly as Ward-Prowse.
As for Liverpool, how do you assess their campaign to date?
Completely bizarre, as evidenced by their recent series of results.
While Liverpool were once such a reliable player, losing at home to Leeds before defeating Napoli and Tottenham is now something of a norm.
There were factors that made life difficult for Klopp, but some tactical decisions this season have been counterproductive, such as the positioning of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah — two players who played a key role in the team’s past success.
Liverpool can and will continue to beat anyone on their day, as evidenced by the victory of Man City, but now there is a sense of vulnerability, and it is clear that they are not the same as they were even last season.
Where do you think both sides will finish?
I think Liverpool will still get into the Champions League — they are too good not to do that.
I would say that City and Arsenal are the only two teams that are nailed together, and it seems to me that the Reds will catch up with Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United and make a good move.
As for Saints, now I would say that there are no three teams worse than us.
At the moment I think we are probably losing in 18th place, but if we sign a high-class attacking player in January and Jones proves me wrong, which I really hope, then everything can be fine.
But I’m not too optimistic, unfortunately!
Which of the Reds players would you most like to see in the Saints right now?
Virgil van Dijk is the best player I’ve seen at Southampton, but you have to say Salah.
We’re too wasteful in front of goal and he’s as good as anyone when chances present themselves, so it’s easy this time.
Ahead of Saturday, where will the key battles take place?
We don’t have a permanent right-back, Tino Livramento and Kyle Walker-Peters are out, so whoever plays on the left for Liverpool can be happy.
I like it when Darwin Nunez comes out on the flank, and if he plays with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Mohamed Elyunussi or Lyanko — and no one knows who it will be — I see that he causes serious problems.
Finally, what is your forecast?
I will go for a slightly restrained defeat with a score of 2:0.
All I hope for is a bold performance that will inspire confidence before the break in the World Cup.
The last thing anyone needs is a heavy defeat, especially since this is Jones’ first game, but we all know what the Saints are.