Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl wants his team to stop being “too nice” as they look to get their Premier League campaign back on track at Everton.
After briefly sitting top during November, the Saints have plummeted down the table in 2021 following a dismal run of seven defeats from eight league games.
Hasenhuttl has seen his options depleted by a string of injuries this year, with midfielder Oriol Romeu the latest absentee.
The experienced Spaniard, 29, is now set to miss the rest of the season after suffering a fractured ankle, which will need surgery, during the 3-0 loss at Leeds.
Forward Theo Walcott, defender Kyle Walker-Peters and midfielder Ibrahima Diallo all continue their own recovery following recent fitness problems.
Saints will also not have the option of Takumi Minamino against the Toffees.
The on-loan Liverpool forward injured his hamstring after coming on as a second-half substitute at Elland Road, where the hope had been for the Japan international to make the most of some much-needed match action.
Following Monday night’s game at Goodison Park, live on Sky Sports Premier League, Southampton travel to bottom club Sheffield United and will also host both Brighton and Burnley in the coming weeks before heading to relegation-battlers West Brom after Easter.
Going into such a crucial run of fixtures, Hasenhuttl feels the players need to perhaps adopt a more cynical mindset for the challenges ahead.
“We are definitely sometimes too nice, or we have been in the last week when we have an opposition player laying in our box and then we play the ball out and when the opposition doesn’t win the ball back, they make tactical fouls,” the Austrian said.
“To push this is something in your behaviour, and the behaviour we have here is too nice.
“This is hard to change as this is our mentality and the only problem is that you always get punished when you are correct and stick to the rules in football.
“We are nasty in the sense of being aggressive on the ball and attacking, but in other parts we are definitely too nice.”
Former RB Leipzig boss Hasenhuttl recalled a campaign in Germany when he instilled more of an edge to the group, which when all was said and done, he admitted just did not feel right.
“I changed this sort of behaviour as a manager when I had a year when I was promoted with Ingolstadt from the Bundesliga.2 in 2015,” the Austrian said.
“We were the nastiest team in the league, but in the end it doesn’t make you happy as a manager.”
Hasenhuttl, appointed at St Mary’s Stadium in early December 2018, added: “The behaviour we have here at Southampton is normally why I love English football.
“Players are always honest and they don’t roll away, they try to stay on their feet and it is still far away from all the other leagues in world football and this is why I like it so much.”
Everton vs Southampton is live on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event as part of Monday Night Football from 7pm; Kick-off 8pm. Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in the live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app. Highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel shortly after the final whistle.
All eyes will be on Everton here. Traditionally, you’d think the Toffees would be vulnerable in trying to back up a famous win like they had at Anfield. Lose this one and that historic victory is toned down a touch.
It’s relevant that eight of Everton’s 12 Premier League wins this season have been away from Goodison – only 35 per cent of points have come at home (14/40). I wouldn’t be touching them around Evens against a dangerous Saints team.
Yes, they have won just one of their last 13 Premier League games since mid-December but Hasenhutt’s boys do raise their levels when necessary, as seen when beating Liverpool and drawing with Chelsea.
I’m expecting plenty of bite in midfield in this one with the rapidly improving Tom Davies matching up against a Saints side that play very aggressively through the middle with James Ward-Prowse at the forefront of their play.
Davies was sensational in the win at Anfield with a destructive and tactically astute performance in front of his expertly organised defence. No player made more tackles than Davies (5) and no Everton player gained possession for their side on more occasions (8). Carlo Ancelotti is getting the best out of the midfielder in the absence of Allan and the 11/4 with Sky Bet for him to make four or more tackles looks good to me.