Tactics writer Sam Tighe, from Bleacher Report, takes a closer look at what's changed for Shane Long under Ralph Hasenhüttl to spark the striker's return to goalscoring form...
There isn’t a player in this Southampton squad who hasn’t benefited from Ralph Hasenhüttl’s appointment as manager, with the Austrian extracting new levels from each squad member thanks to a mix of hands-on coaching and astute tactical tweaks.
From Nathan Redmond’s transformation into a deadly winger, through Jan Bednarek’s emergence as a top centre-back to James Ward-Prowse’s seizing of a leader’s role in this side, the success stories trickle in on a weekly basis.
sam tigheit should come as no surprise that long's athletic, direct approach to football has found a home under hasenhüttl.
Quick to pounce
Right on cue, just as we were due a fresh one, Shane Long’s literal rapid improvement, highlighted by his record-breaking goal against Watford this week, shot to the fore.
Chasing the opening kick-off back to the centre-backs, he blocked the punt forward, knocked it toward Ben Foster and calmly dinked the finish over the onrushing goalkeeper’s body.
All in 7.69 seconds.
The phrase “supporters had barely taken their seats when…” is often used, but mostly for effect. For once, here, it actually rang true.
The speed and graft with which he chased the pass down is what we’ve come to expect; Long runs, runs and runs some more, always has, always will.
The calmness with which he chipped Foster, though, is perhaps something that hasn’t historically been part of the Irishman’s game, but under Hasenhüttl it’s becoming a theme.
Add the record-breaking Watford sequence to the cold-blooded, laser-like finish against Liverpool earlier this month and the composed finish against Leicester City in January and a pattern begins to emerge: Long, fuelled with confidence in a game plan that suits him, is enjoying life under the new regime.
All five of his goal contributions (four goals, one assist) in the Premier League this season have come since Saints’ managerial switch, and the haul stands his best in three seasons – despite starting fewer games, at the time of writing.
It should come as no surprise that Long’s athletic, direct approach to football has found a home under Hasenhüttl.
He’s benefiting for the same reasons Josh Sims has of late, and Redmond has since December: those who like to aggressively run the channels and press off the ball will be appreciated by the Austrian tactician, and he’ll find a way to service them.
Long’s playing his best football on the south coast since he shared centre-forward duties with Graziano Pellè, a partnership that allowed him to run off the shoulder and latch onto flick-ons.
There’s no big man up top with him right now, but he’s fulfilling a similar role, stretching opponents and making life very difficult for them off the ball.
Oh, and scoring important goals too.