Ralph Hasenhuttl boasted about Southampton’s superior defensive record ahead of their first Premier League clash of the new year against table-topping Liverpool.
Saints enjoyed an impressive start to the season, briefly topping the table during a seven-game unbeaten run, but have since slipped out of the European places and into ninth.
They shared the points from a hard-fought 0-0 stalemate with Fulham on Boxing Day and recorded another goalless draw against West Ham on December 29, yet the manager insists further tightening up at the back is essential.
“We have to find a good balance of keeping the ball and still creating chances, and I think this is a good challenge for the next games,” Hasenhuttl said on Wednesday.
“But the most important thing for me is that so far we have conceded 19 goals this season, one less than Liverpool, and this is the biggest step.
“This is what was definitely necessary and this was the fundamental of having a good season.”
Hasenhuttl could return to the dugout on January 4, having spent the West Ham game self-isolating at home after a member of his household tested positive for Covid-19.
The boss said after the game it was “horrible” trying to coach his side from home, and admitted it was a different set-up trying to manage remotely.
“It is definitely different if you are not there on the sideline, but a good team does not need a director all the time – and we have a good team now,” said Hasenhuttl.
“It is definitely a team that knows what they have to do, it is more important to use the time before the game to set them up perfectly and we definitely did a good job in the last 48 hours, and this was the reason why they were well organised.”
Hasenhuttl could be given a further boost ahead of the Liverpool game after Danny Ings returned from injury to play the full 90 minutes against West Ham.
The striker had sustained an injury before Christmas, but with seven goals to his name already this season, the Austrian manager believes Ings’ return to fitness is important for the club.
“I think he is OK, he had a good start in the game,” said Hasenhuttl. “It was a good goal, a pity that it was again a little bit offside.
“And yes it is normal after this injury that he is not 100 per cent (in his usual) rhythm, but it’s important that he stays fit now.
“He has enough time to recover now for the next game against his former club Liverpool.
“I am happy to have him back, and we must definitely have more punch up front to score goals in the future but this will happen, I am sure.”