Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe explains why Angus Gunn appears so well-suited to Saints' new tactical approach...
Over the course of his first month in charge of Southampton, Ralph Hasenhüttl hasn’t exactly strayed away from making big calls with his team selections.
The likes of Jan Bednarek, Jannik Vestergaard and Oriol Romeu have all come in for a more substantial role in the team under his tutelage – with others falling by the wayside a little as a result – while Academy players have been utilised more, with Kayne Ramsay’s 90 minutes against Manchester City the shining example of that.
But even with those precedents in place, it felt particularly monumental when Angus Gunn was drafted in as the man between the sticks for December’s visit to Chelsea.
For Hasenhüttl to switch his goalkeepers at such a time took most by surprise – particularly given he was handing Gunn his Premier League debut (not just for Southampton, but for any side).
The move paid off handsomely, though; Gunn put in a man of the match performance as Saints kept a clean sheet = at Stamford Bridge – the first time that had happened since 2002. It made things much easier for Hasenhüttl to explain after the match, too:
“He is a very offensive defending goalkeeper and that is what I need against a team that is always playing the chipped balls behind the last line,” the Austrian revealed.
“We knew that they have good deep runs and this ball is very hard to defend for centre-backs, so we need a keeper who is on the jump and defending forward, and there were a lot of situations where he saved the ball.”
The front-footed, aggressive nature of Gunn’s performance was the hallmark of his standout performance. In the first five minutes, he ventured out to cut out through balls intended for Eden Hazard and Willian, then later did the same when put under pressure by Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Most other facets of his game looked strong too – his handling was spot-on, holding shots others might have palmed or parried, while his aerial command was fine – but it was the boldness of his positioning to cut out Chelsea’s through balls that really stood out.
Gunn followed up that performance with a good showing against Derby County at the weekend, where his high starting position was again crucial to stopping the Rams’ attempts to get in behind Southampton.
Just before half time, he headed a ball intended for Jack Marriott clear from three yards outside his penalty box, evoking thoughts of Alisson Becker or Ederson Moraes.
Stylistically speaking, he suits Hasenhüttl the best of Saints’ three senior goalkeepers. His sweeping ability and front-footedness makes a high defensive line more viable, which in turn makes a high-pressing game more effective.
There’s still some work to be done to combine all three smoothly, but we’ve seen the process move forward since Gunn took his place between the sticks.
That he’s stepped in and performed from the off won’t surprise some, as he’d displayed excellent form in Saints’ Carabao Cup run. He conceded just one goal in games against Brighton (1-0), Everton (1-1) and Leicester (0-0), and crucially saved a Theo Walcott penalty in the shoot-out at Goodison Park.
That he produced a performance so bold, so assured and so effective in such a situation will have impressed even his most ardent fans, though.
Gunn’s been forced to show patience as he went from first-team football on loan at Norwich City last season to biding his time at St Mary’s, but, pleasingly, he’s taken his chance with both hands and both feet.