Southampton have now picked up just one point from their last nine games in the Premier League after suffering a 1-0 defeat against Everton on Monday evening.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side struggled to create chances at Goodison Park and only managed one shot on target in the 90 minutes, which came in the final few minutes when Jordan Pickford blocked Jannik Vestergaard’s goal-bound shot.
The Austrian tactician was forced into a tactical change in midfield ahead of the game, following the news that the defensive-minded Oriol Romeu will now miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury, meaning Stuart Armstrong was dropped into a central-midfield role against Everton, rather than his usual position as a ‘wide 10’.
Unfortunately, with Ibrahima Diallo having only just returned to individual training, Southampton were left with just James Ward-Prowse as a natural, senior option in central midfield, with Hasenhuttl preferring Armstrong there instead of academy talents Alexandre Jankewitz and Kgaogelo Chauke.
Whilst the Scottish international featured in that position regularly for Celtic, his best performances in a Southampton shirt have come out wide, and Hasenhuttl’s side really missed his influence on the wing – with wingers Moussa Djenepo and Nathan Redmond rated as the worst players on the pitch at Goodison Park by SofaScore.
Having two attack-minded players in the middle for Hasenhuttl left Southampton far too exposed, which was clear to see when the Toffees opened the scoring, as Gylfi Sigurdsson was afforded far too much time and space to slip a ball through to Richarlison to round Fraser Forster and slam in from a tight angle.
The Icelandic midfielder was able to find a lot of space on a number of occasions, perhaps due to Armstrong and Ward-Prowse pushing too far up the pitch, and he caused Southampton a lot of problems, with SofaScore awarding him an 8.0 rating for his display – the best of any player on the evening.
Earlier this year, after Armstrong signed a new contract with the South Coast club, which now sees him earn £50k per week, Hasenhuttl dubbed him as a “very smart” player and praised his effectiveness as a number 10.
However, it could be argued that the 28-year-old doesn’t possess the positional awareness to play as a central midfielder in a 4-4-2, as his attacking runs left the Saints vulnerable to the counter-attack on a number of occasions.
Therefore, it seems that Hasenhuttl’s decision to play Armstrong in that position was a fatal mistake in the end, as it both limited Southampton going forward and left them exposed defensively.