Bednarek’s Return To Favour Crucial To Southampton’s Upturn
February 5, 2019
Southampton’s late 1-1 draw with Burnley may have been a gut punch given the timing and manner of the Clarets’ equaliser, an Ashley Barnes penalty deep into second-half injury time, but supporters would likely have taken a point before kick off.
Up against a Clarets side that came into the tie on the back of a five-match unbeaten run, a draw was a positive result in the battle against relegation.
Yes, three points would have been ideal and would’ve opened up a four-point gap between themselves and the bottom three, but it’s further proof that Ralph Hasenhuttl’s appointment has given Saints the required shot in the arm in their bid to beat in the drop. Indeed, of the 24 points they have earned this season, 15 have come with the Austrian at the helm, and the south coast side are benefitting from a tactically adept manager in charge.
There’s no denying that, had Saints continued with Mark Hughes, they would have gone down, but at least with Hasenhuttl gripping the reins, there’s a sense of purpose and direction that was desperately lacking prior to his appointment, it’s showing on the pitch and, crucially, in the results. The 1-1 draw extended Saints’ unbeaten run to five league games as they sit two points above the drop zone. With 13 games to play, it’ll be tight at the bottom of the table come May, yet Hasenhuttl has instilled confidence at St. Mary’s with the players and fans very much believing they’ll consolidate their Premier League spot.
Crucial has been the setup, with Hasenhuttl utilising a three-man defence to good effect. Only once in his time at the club has he diverted from the system, that coming in the 3-1 home loss to Manchester City, and that was so he could field three central midfielders to try and counter the defending Premier League champions. A constant in his 10 games in charge has been the inclusion of Jan Bednarek.
The Polish defender has started 11 Premier League matches this season, with 10 of those coming under Hasenhuttl, and it’s having a positive effect on Saints’ performances and results. Four of their five wins have come with Bednarek starting at the back, while the number of goals conceded per game drops from 1.86 to 1.45 when the 22-year-old features from the off.
Signed from Lech Poznan in 2017 for, what now seems a paltry £5m, it wasn’t until April 2018 that Bednarek made his debut for Saints, yet even so, the defender has made just 16 Premier League starts in his 18 months at the club, but he’s undoubtedly making up for lost time in a Saints side that has shipped just 13 league goals with Hasenhuttl in charge; only four teams have shipped fewer. Since Hasenhuttl took over, only Saints teammate Jannik Vestergaard (72) has made more clearances than Bednarek (71) in the Premier League, as per WhoScored.com.
This proactive approach to alleviating pressure on the Southampton goal is evidently having a positive impact on the team. Over the same period, only Sol Bamba (32) has made more interceptions than Bednarek (25), while no player has blocked more shots than the young centre-back (14). His willingness to put his body on the line to deny opponents and the impressive reading of the game has helped consolidate Bednarek’s place as a fan favourite in Southampton.
“My parents always told me: ‘If you are doing something, do it 100 per cent’,” Bednarek said back in December and he’s taken that advice on board and then some as he goes from strength to strength with each passing game. In a looming crunch run of games, where Saints play three of the top six and two relegation rivals, Bednarek’s consistency in defence will boost their chances of springing upsets and putting key points on the board to move the team away from danger.
While there has been plenty of focus on James Ward-Prowse’s success under Hasenhuttl, Bednarek’s emergence as one of their first choice defenders has flown somewhat under the radar, but it’s the latter’s fine rearguard performances having come into the side under the Austrian boss that has enabled Saints to push up the Premier League table. They may be far from safe at the time of writing, yet if Bednarek can continue to thrive on the right side of Saints’ three-man defence, then they’ll be gearing up for Premier League football next August rather than battling in the Championship to make an immediate return to England’s top tier. Should that come to fruition, then the £5m paid for his services in 2017 will look all the more the bargain.