Scout Report: Southampton's latest midfield general, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg
It has been a busy summer at the St. Mary’s Stadium as Southampton are yet again having to cope up with the departures of several key players. The transfers of Victor Wanyama, Sadio Mane and Graziano Pelle to Tottenham, Liverpool and Shandong Luneng respectively has already dented the chances of the club replicating their performance of the last season, where they finished 6th.
However, in what can be deemed as some good news for the Saints, the club has recruited 2 exciting talents in Nathan Redmond and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in a bid to add quality to its ranks. In this segment, we take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Danish midfielder and assess if and where he would fit in at Southampton.
Born on 5th August 1995 at Copenhagen, Denmark, the midfielder initially trained with BK Skjold and F.C. Copenhagen before making a move to Brøndby IF in 2009, the club where he began his ascent to becoming one of the brightest youngsters in Europe.
He began turning the right heads with his performances at various youth levels and was deservedly awarded the “Danish U-17 player of the year” in 2011. His abilities in the middle of the park impressed the hierarchy at German giants Bayern Munich and they snapped him up in 2012 on a free transfer.
On April 13th, 2013, he became the youngest player ever to feature for Bayern in the Bundesliga when he made his debut coming on as a substitute for Xherdan Shaqiri.
However, he found playing time hard to come over the course of his stay at the Allianz Arena and was shipped to Augsburg and Schalke in order to afford him time on the pitch. His move to Southampton is expected to bring him the much-needed game time in a tough league and should benefit the player in the long run.
Style of Play
The midfielder is touted to be in the mould of Barcelona starlet Sergio Buquests. While he was trained as a defensive midfielder, he can also feature as a wide midfielder and a wing-back when required by his manager. Possessing the ability to function as a box-to-box midfielder, Hojbjerg has shown an excellent ability to bring the ball out of his own defence and turn a precarious situation into an attacking opportunity.
While Southampton manager Claude Puel might be pleased with the flexibility available to him in the form of the player, the club would be best served if the Danish midfielder can live up to his billing as a dominant central midfielder.
Hojbjerg, who models his game on the legendary Zinedine Zidane, is a very calm presence to have in the centre of the park. Primarily deployed as a central midfielder, Hojbjerg is very tidy with his passing, having showcased an ability to maintain the rhythm of his side with simple passes, while being able to pick a defence-splitting pass when presented with an opportunity.
A hard-working midfielder, his athleticism is well complemented by his vision of the game as he can often disrupt the opposition’s rhythm with crucial tackles and interceptions. He close to 2 successful tackles and over 3 interceptions per 90 minutes during the last season with Schalke, which is an indication of his abilities.
While the player does not have any major weaknesses, the lack of extended playing time ever since moving to Bayern Munich has stunted his progress as a football. The biggest concern with regards to the player is his judgement. He can be careless going into tackles, gifting the opposition with opportunities.
Another aspect of his game, which has a scope for improvement is his ability to find the back of the net. In a league where midfielders are expected to contribute with goals, Hojbjerg would do well to improve on his best figures of 2 goals in the top flight.
"I’m very pleased. It’s a big opportunity for me. I look forward to giving what I have and what I can to the club. They have put trust in me and I want to show them that they are not wrong. When I heard that Southampton came in for me I said to my people that this is what I want to do because I can see myself at Southampton, as it’s the way I like to think, the way I like to play and it fits me really well,” he told the club’s website in his first interview.
Would he fit in at Southampton?
The departure of Victor Wanyama to Spurs has left Southampton bereft of any bite in the midfield. While he might not be an out and out destroyer like the Kenyan, his all round abilities would be a welcome addition to the Saints. He possesses the right mix of offensive and defensive attributes and could have a better a better overall impact on the games compared to Wanyama.
At just 20 years of age, the Danish international is still developing and could become one of the best midfielders in Europe with quality playing time. However, his abilities will be pushed to the limits in the upcoming season as he will not only have to adapt to a new league, he will also have to handle the expectations that surround him.