Getting the blend of style and substance, the conundrum of the south coast


Both Southampton and Brighton fans will be sleeping easy for a few weeks now both sides look to have assured themselves of Premier League football next term. But the managers have plenty to think about, style, identity, results… progression.

Southampton have been in fine form since November, a recent table showing that since the late international break in 2019 they are in the top six when it comes to form. Which is a testament to the job Ralph Hassenhuttl had undertaken in what is a supremely busy period for Premier League sides.

Hasenhuttl has been steadily building his side to form a team of extremely hard working utility men who can have a positive impact wherever they find themselves on the pitch.

The Austrian has found a way to bring out consistent performances from players many thought were on borrowed time at the club. Jack Stephens has matured into a capable Premier League defender, his recent performance against Manchester City showed the grit, determination and desire he possesses, all of which are attributes that define a quality central defender.

The likes of James Ward-Prowse have finally begun to look like a Premier League player, Hasenhuttl has instilled a mean streak into the baby faced midfielder, nurturing him into a master of the dark arts, you only have to ask Wilfried Zaha about that.

There has been clear progress this season, but the club has fallen so quickly from the days of Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman that this progress seems more like stagnation. The target for Southampton as a club is European football, and to keep hold of a manager as talented as Hassenhuttl; he, and they, will have to deliver.

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Brighton have been… steady. They are capable of an upset but at the same time don’t quite inspire. Graham Potter was hired to replace Chris Hughton to improve the quality of football being played. The club have the fanbase, they have the stadium, now they wanted the identity.

That isn’t to say Hughton did a BAD job at The AMEX, he just didn’t do it with any flair.

That being said, Potter hasn’t turned Brighton into a Barcelona, nor are they even playing the expansive brand of football we saw Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea side bring to the Premier League. But is is a step in the right direction.

They have a solid set of central defenders within their ranks, Adam Webster and Lewis Dunk are both comfortable in this division without being spectacular. Mat Ryan is one of the better Premier League goalkeepers whilst the side does boast a creative hub.

Pascal Gross is one of the unsung playmakers in the Premier League, with the recent arrival of Argentinian international Alexis MacAllister hoping to acclimatise to the league as soon as possible and show off the eye for a pass he possesses.

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At the top of the team Potter has Neil Maupay to call on, a terrier like forward who is perfectly capable of scoring goals in the Premier League. His temperament may occasionally cause some concern but his disciplinary record is nothing to worry about.

His debut season in the Premier League has brought him nine goals, a number not to be baulked at. Brighton are a team who has struggled at the wrong end of the table and the Frenchman getting close to double figures in the league is a key reason why they can end the season in such a relaxed manner.

Looking Forward

Both sides are safe, both sides have a clear vision of what they want their teams to be. Southampton want high octane, pressing football; Brighton want slick possession-based football that is pleasing on the eye.

They both will look to strengthen in the summer, but both clubs have a good foundation of players to achieve what they aim for. When they meet at St Mary’s on Thursday night it will be a clash of two styles where the outcome of the game will depend entirely on who can implement theirs better.

Southampton will look to press the Brighton players in possession, whilst the Seagulls will attempt to break this press with quick passing triangles to progress up the pitch.

Whilst this game is deemed a ‘dead rubber’ it is a perfect opportunity for both managers to instruct their sides to express themselves and earn a place in the system for the future.

The landscape of the Premier League is such at the moment that a top half finish in 2020/21 is no longer a pipe dream for these clubs, it is a realistic target.

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