Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe focuses on the progression of Jannik Vestergaard, explaining how the defender is coming of age in the Premier League...
Ralph Hasenhüttl’s impact at Southampton has been felt far and wide since his appointment in December.
He’s helped reconnect the fans to the team, he’s helped the team click on the pitch and, perhaps most notably, he’s coaxed drastically improved form out of several individuals. Many of them look men transformed.
Some of those individuals have been highlighted already in our regular features; the likes of Jan Bednarek, James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond have shone over the last few weeks and received deserved praise.
This week it’s time to turn the spotlight toward another whose performances have gone above and beyond of late: Jannik Vestergaard.
The giant Dane has been a virtual ever-present since Hasenhüttl took the reins and that faith has been repaid; with every passing week he gets better and better.
Given his physical attributes, his placing on the left side of the back three is somewhat atypical; usually you’d expect the strongest, tallest figure to anchor the middle (where Jack Stephens or Maya Yoshida have been playing) and defend the central zones.
But while that decision may have seemed odd at first, it’s starting to look ingenious.
Playing on the outside allows you to step up into the midfield and contest for loose balls without wrecking the team’s shape, and Vestergaard’s superb anticipation and reading of the game has been unlocked by doing this.
We’re now losing count of the number of times he senses danger, strides forward and deals with it neatly, winning 50/50 duels and dispossessing forwards. He then calmly lays the ball off to a midfielder, who starts another Southampton attack.
Another benefit of playing Vestergaard on the outside is it gives him the opportunity to step forward while on the ball and spray it about.
He’s produced nice switch passes to the opposite flank or through-balls for a forward to chase regularly, and he’s done it with both feet. Not many can claim to be that ambidextrous.
sam tigheplaying on the outside allows you to step up into the midfield and contest for loose balls without wrecking the team's shape, and vestergaard's superb anticipation and reading of the game has been unlocked by doing this.
He’s getting through his fair share of work in the penalty box too – not as much as Bednarek, but then, who in the world does? – and his telescopic legs were put to excellent use last weekend as he blocked a sure-fire Burnley goal.
What we’re still waiting for, amazingly, is a definitive impact in the other box in the form of a goal.
He’s getting closer and closer, creating separation from his markers consistently only to send his bullet headers a fraction high or wide; that maiden strike is coming sooner rather than later.
Through this period of steady improvement, it’s actually easy to forget that Vestergaard’s error in Hasenhüttl’s first game in charge proved costly.
The opponent that day, Cardiff City, visit St Mary’s this weekend and will taste first-hand how different a proposition the Dane – and this team as a whole – is now.