Ralph Hasenhuttl has told the Daily Echo that Jan Bednarek deserves ‘big praise’ for how he performed on his return to the Southampton defence at Manchester City on Saturday.
The Austrian rotated his centre-back options at the Etihad Stadium with Bednarek coming in to partner Jack Stephens. Mohammed Salisu had started the Saints’ prior four Premier League games with Stephens, who he had to replace after 37-minutes through injury.
Southampton had also kept their first clean sheet of the term against West Ham United with Salisu and Stephens starting. But Hasenhuttl sought to reintroduce Bednarek for a first start of the campaign for his superior presence on the ball.
Bednarek had only played 45-minutes over Southampton’s opening four Premier League fixtures before facing the defending champions in Salisu’s place. The pair, plus Stephens, ultimately held Manchester City to a point and extended the Saints’ run of draws to four.
Hasenhuttl does not see a great deal of difference between Salisu and Bednarek for their quality in the Southampton defence. But the St Mary’s boss notes he picked a side that he believed would match up best against Pep Guardiola’s.
“It’s not always who deserves to play, it’s more who we need to play and what we want to play,” he said. “[Bednarek] is, on the ball, a little bit calmer than Sali in some moments.
“But Sali is also on a good way, so you could see when he was coming on, it was not such a big difference. But I thought [Bednarek] fits a little bit better and that’s the reason why I gave him the chance to play. I think he deserves big praise for what he did.”
Was Hasenhuttl right to bench Salisu for Bednarek vs Manchester City?
Hasenhuttl will feel he made the right call benching Salisu for Bednarek with Southampton shutting out Manchester City on Saturday. The Saints lost both of their meetings with the Citizens’ last season, including a 5-2 defeat at the Etihad Stadium.
Southampton had also not taken a single point away to the Sky Blues in their previous five visits before Sunday. Their last positive league result was a 1-1 draw in October 2016, with a last win coming in April 2004. The St Mary’s side lost their in-between five trips to City.
With Manchester City also entering the weekend on the back of 5-0 wins over Norwich and Arsenal, plus a 6-3 victory over RB Leipzig in their prior four games across all competitions, Hasenhuttl will have known Southampton needed to be strong defensively to take a result.
Hasenhuttl will now hope 25-year-old Bednarek and 22-year-old Salisu can build a rapport if Southampton are without Stephens for long.