Premier League

The curious quirks of Southampton improvement under Hasenhüttl

 • by Mark Thompson
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Ralph Hasenhüttl has Southampton playing good football again.

The results — four wins and a draw in eight games — are rolling in, the club are out of the Premier League relegation zone, and…

Per gameLeague rank
Expected goals0.9816th
Expected goals against1.4717th

Hang on, that doesn’t look right. At least under Mark Hughes, the attack was around mid-table quality. Now it’s only better than four other teams? Surely not.

*Checks numbers*

Right, here we go. Things all change when you look at ‘post-shot’ expected goals, which take into account shot placement as well as where they are taken from.

Hasenhüttl’s Southampton suddenly become a mid-table team on both sides of the ball.

Per gameLeague rank
Post-shot expected goals1.258th
Post-shot expected goals against1.2210th

So what’s going on, exactly?

Well, sometimes the differences between pre-shot and post-shot expected goals indicate that there’s an unusual amount of pressure – either lots or little – around a team’s shots. Burnley, for example, often concede a smaller amount of post-shot expected goals because they have so many players behind the ball.

Southampton’s attacking numbers, meanwhile, probably get a boost because of the new quick and counter-attacking style of play, which has also been a big benefit to Nathan Redmond.

The winger has come into his own under Hasenhüttl with five goals and two assists in all competitions. Before the Austrian manager arrived, his tally for both stood at a big fat zero.

He’s the key man, topping the list for expected goals value from open-play for Southampton, having been just sixth under Hughes this season.

It’s a sensible change for the team wanting to play a quicker version of football, although Charlie Austin and Danny Ings must wonder where they now stand.

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But if you were trying to gauge Southampton’s progression and where they’re likely to end up at the end of the season, which set of statistics should you trust? The bottom-third pre-shot expected goals or the midtable post-shot expected goals?

For the moment, the latter, and questions should only come when Southampton start to get to the end of what they can eke out from counter-attacking. There’s a limit to the chances you can create purely by being opportunistic, and it will be interesting to see how the Saints fare when they have to break teams down.

One last thing to note is that Hasenhüttl has finally broken the curse around St Mary’s and goalscoring.

For several seasons, Southampton have underperformed in attack compared to their expected goals, and for little obvious reason. Now they’re finally back around expected levels, which will undoubtedly delight those Saints fans who’ve endured some turgid football at home.

Southampton are still a slightly confusing team in the midst of a transition that makes one wary of committing to an opinion about them, but they’re going in the right direction.

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