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What will Nathan Jones bring to Southampton?

Original article published 8 November 2022

Monday brought the confirmation of Ralph Hasenhuttl's departure from Southampton and it looks inevitable that Luton's Nathan Jones will fill the vacancy.

Reports suggest it is a done deal, with the Welshman due to speak to the Saints' board after Tuesday's Championship trip to Stoke, a game his side are 3/1 to win.

Jones returned for his second spell at Kenilworth Road in 2020 after leaving the previous year to take over at the Potters.

Things did not work out at Stoke but having led Luton to promotion from League Two in 2017/18, he took them into last season's Championship playoffs.

The 49-year-old looks destined for the Premier League with Southampton, who sit 18th after Sunday's 4-1 defeat to Newcastle.

An announcement could be made in time for Wednesday's EFL Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday before breaking for the World Cup after Saturday's trip to Liverpool, which they are 8/1 to win.

New energy

A new voice often brings immediate improvement. After four years at the helm, and despite a heavy turnover of players, Hasenhuttl's message may have become stale.

When the Austrian took charge in December 2018, he was seen as a breath of fresh air, bringing innovative ideas after impressive spells with FC Ingolstadt and RB Leipzig.

Hasenhuttl bounced through the door with the team 18th in the table, reinvigorating the squad after a mixed spell under Mark Hughes and saving them from relegation.

Saints finished 11th the following campaign before twice coming home 15th. 

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What's more, they reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup in 2020/21 and then the quarter-finals the next season.

All this occurred despite losing the likes of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Tottenham, 2020) and Danny Ings (Aston Villa, 2021) without buying recognisable replacements.

The summer of 2022 saw Saints sign 11 new players. However, only loanee Ainsley Maitland-Niles arrived with significant Premier League experience and in hindsight, it seems no surprise that Southampton have struggled while the new faces have looked to settle in.

A new, fresh voice through Jones might be what is needed and like Hasenhuttl, his energy on the touchline can often inspire his players.

Defensive improvement

At their best, Hasenhuttl's side could be thrilling but went through long spells where they leaked goals. Most famously they lost 9-0 to both Leicester and Manchester United and have conceded an average of 1.71 goals per game this season in the Premier League.

Having only netted 12 goals in their 14 games, they need to improve at both ends but tightening up at the back is often easier than finding fresh ways to score.

Luton have conceded 19 goals in as many games in the Championship, the sixth-best defensive record in the league and have kept clean sheets in their last two outings.

Jones has also often shown his tactical flexibility during his career, regularly alternating between three and four at the back, occasionally even during matches.

With it still unclear how Southampton should set up, Jones will not hesitate to experiment to find the best defensive formula.

Despite a lack of experience, there is potential in the Southampton squad, including at the back. Armel Bella-Kotchap is a contender for Germany's World Cup squad, Kyle Walker-Peters could be part of England's party in Qatar and Duje Caleta-Car is a certainty for Croatia.

With Gavin Bazunu impressing in goal, the new manager may focus his attention on signing a new defensive midfielder in January.

A point to prove

Jones may also feel he has a point to prove. The 49-year-old moved to Stoke in 2019 for the chance to coach at a higher level.

Things did not work out in the Potteries but he has since shown he can coach in the Championship since returning to Luton, who, as of writing, sit eighth in the Championship table ahead of Tuesday's return to his former club.

After guiding the Hatters to sixth last season, Jones has shown he can bond a team of players who have not necessarily shone elsewhere and that is similar to what he looks set to encounter at Southampton.

With doubts regarding the St Mary's squad, Jones' determination will make him desperate to succeed where Hasenhuttl failed and lead Southampton to a top-half finish, currently available at 10/1.

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