Nathan Redmond has always been a player with clear potential. But it has often seemed unfulfilled. The Southampton winger is 24 now, no longer a youngster, and that perhaps explains the growing frustration from supporters earlier this season.
Saints fans have not been alone in their calls for more consistency from Redmond. Pep Guardiola, of course, took to the pitch after a game against Southampton last season to publicly lecture the former Norwich City man.
Like many others, Guardiola wanted to see Redmond reach his full potential, to see him play without inhibitions. And since Ralph Hasenhüttl took over at Southampton in December, that has started to happen.
Redmond appears unshackled, playing with freedom and expression. He has scored six goals in ten games since the arrival of the German coach – three in the Premier League and three in the FA Cup – and thrived in a more central role.
Hasenhüttl’s decision to move Redmond in from the wing has proved inspired. He had been a peripheral figure under Mark Hughes, struggling to assert his authority on games and too often making contributions only sporadically.
Now, though, Redmond is repeatedly finding himself in areas where he can damage the opposition. He has been more efficient, more clinical, and Southampton are reaping the rewards.
The stats, under Hasenhüttl, suggest a refinement to Redmond’s game. He is dribbling less – 4.06 total take-ons per 90 minutes compared with 5.07 previously – and shooting less – 1.42 total scoring attempts per 90, down from 1.73 under Hughes.
The advice from Hasenhüttl, clearly, has been that less is more. He has not restricted Redmond, not looked to quell his natural flamboyance and flair; instead, he has simply brought the best out of him by ensuring that he operates in the right areas of the pitch.
It is not a coincidence that Redmond had not scored this season prior to Hasenhüttl’s appointment. In a struggling team and short of confidence, his priority was to run at defenders and create for his team-mates.
That instinct has not gone, but Redmond is now far better placed to have a direct impact on games.
His xG per 90 is up from 0.11 to 0.25. And, of course, his rate of goal scoring has risen exponentially: up to 0.32 goals per 90 in the Premier League since early December.
“I’m taking it game-by-game and trying to deliver what the manager wants and work hard for my team at the same time. Everyone has bought into the ethos, and if I’m benefitting from that, I’m pretty sure everyone else is,” Redmond told the Daily Echo.
“He has simplified the game and made me realise that working hard for the team is just as important as taking six, seven, eight or nine touches in the wrong areas. I’ve tried to take everything he has said on board as I do with every manager, and if that’s enough for him then perfect.”
Redmond’s goal against Burnley on Saturday was perhaps the best example of his revitalisation under Hasenhüttl. He received the ball just inside the opposition’s half, in a central area, before turning and driving towards goal. He beat a man and fired a low shot into the bottom corner past a helpless Tom Heaton.
That is what Redmond is capable of, but too often in the past good runs of form have come and gone. The hope, from everyone of a Southampton persuasion, will be that he maintains his current level of performance until the end of the season.
If he does, the Saints will have a strong chance of avoiding the drop. They are not yet out of the woods, just two points above 18th placed Cardiff after conceding a late equaliser against Burnley.
But Southampton have only lost three of ten Premier League games under Hasenhüttl and are unbeaten in five. They are on the right track, and that is in no small part due to the huge improvement of one of their key players.
If Redmond continues to play as he has in recent weeks, Southampton should have enough to keep their heads above water.