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Southampton's summer signings reviewed: Jannik Vestergaard

Read Sport logo Read Sport 3 days ago Luke Osman
a man wearing a red shirt: Southampton FC v Arsenal FC - Premier League © Catherine Ivill/Getty Images Sport Southampton FC v Arsenal FC - Premier League

Southampton wrapped up their penultimate signing of last year’s summer transfer window by landing Borussia Monchengladbach star Jannik Vestergaard. 

The centre-back arrived in a deal worth £18 million, making him the club’s most expensive ever defender. 

Vestergaard, a fully-fledged Denmark international, was added to the squad as the Saints aimed to provide greater physical prowess in their back-line, which had been missing following the respective departures of Jose Fonte and Virgil van Dijk. 

It was a slow start to life in England for the defender, however, and it took time for him to truly adapt to the pace of the Premier League. Vestergaard displayed a propensity to struggle with balls played in behind and found himself positionally unaware when low crosses were played into the box. 

a rugby player on a field: Dan Mullan/Getty Images Sport © Dan Mullan/Getty Images Sport Dan Mullan/Getty Images Sport

The defender was given ample opportunities to continue adjusting, but he didn’t convince. Vestergaard failed to impress in the opening stages of the season, but he was still playing better than Wesley Hoedt, who Mark Hughes often selected ahead of him during his stint in charge. 

That would change upon the arrival of Ralph Hasenhuttl as the club’s first-team manager, though. The Austrian placed his faith in him from the first day he walked through the door and stood by him despite one glaring error. 

Vestergaard started in the new boss’ first game in charge. He lined up in a crucial game down at the bottom of the table away at Cardiff City, but in truth, ended up costing Southampton the match. 

His loose back-pass left Callum Paterson with only Alex McCarthy to beat in the Saints net, and the versatile attacker duly delivered. The Bluebirds proceeded to win 1-0, chiefly as a consequence of the Danish defender’s lapse in concentration. 

a man with a football ball on a field: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images Sport © Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images Sport Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images Sport

If Hasenhuttl wasn’t already aware of the gigantic task at hand — keeping Southampton in the Premier League — then the centre-back only reinforced the magnitude of the team’s predicament, conveying their defensive frailties in just one pass. 

Vestergaard was expected to drop out of the team for the manager’s first home game against Arsenal. Following such a cataclysmic error, it was difficult to envisage his name on the team sheet, but Hasenhuttl stuck to his guns and allowed the player to retain his place.

The manager’s show of faith turned out to be the catalyst for the £18m man’s improvement, as he was excellent in Southampton’s 3-2 win over the Gunners. He was aggressive when pressing high up the pitch, remained focused throughout and kept the opposition attackers quiet. 

Vestergaard would continue to enjoy more success in the starting line-up. He was imperious in the away fixtures at Chelsea and Leicester City and continued to show signs of definite improvement following a rocky beginning to the season.

The defender was absent for the closing stages of the campaign as he continues to nurse a groin problem, but his contribution in the second half of the season to Southampton’s survival bid should not be disregarded. 

a football player on a field: Lynne Cameron/Getty Images Sport © Lynne Cameron/Getty Images Sport Lynne Cameron/Getty Images Sport

While Jan Bednarek has taken many of the plaudits following his emergence as a key first-team player under Hasenhuttl, Vestergaard’s gradual adaptation to life at St Mary’s Stadium has rather gone under the radar. 

There is still a long way for the ex-Werder Bremen star to go before he can be regarded as a top-level central defender. He has the tendency to be erratic off the ball, perhaps isn’t as dominant as a player of his physical frame should be, and his passing can occasionally be wayward. 

It is clear that Vestergaard plays better in a back five than he does when Hasenhuttl operates with a 4-2-2-2 system, which could cast doubt over his ability to kick on and flourish next season if the manager makes systemic alterations. 

However, encouragement can be taken from his first season at Southampton. He may not have justified the £18m price tag quite yet, but he’s got the makings of a reliable, consistent Premier League defender.

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