Why Danny Ings is more important to Southampton than you think
- Danny Ings's contribution to Southampton's turnaround this season in the Premier League cannot be overstated.
- Out of the 10 league games the Saints have won, Ings has either scored or assisted in six of them.
As master tactician Ralph Hasenhuttl crossed his arms and looked at the ground covered with sleet and hail at St. Mary's during one of his team's worst defeats ever, he turned into an image that reminded us of the sheer tension undergone during the fight for survival at the bottom of the Premier League.
His Southampton side's defensive porosity was brutally exposed in a 9-0 thrashing at the mercy of an upbeat Leicester City.
Fast forward 78 days, and football's oscillating, unpredictable and dynamic nature turned visible when a certain Danny Ings fired in a late winner to claim all three points against the same opposition that had buried their morale earlier.
Hasenhuttl punched the air in delight, not just because he had orchestrated a masterful win at the King Power, but also because he had pulled off the near-impossible. The Saints' players couldn't hold back their celebrations, expressing just how much those three points, against that very opposition, meant to them.
With 34 points secured already, it is safe to say that Premiership status is now not an impractical dream.
Southampton's players and fans believed in their team even during the darkest phases, because one man was carrying the team's responsibilities on his shoulders throughout - Danny Ings.
Ings arrived late, but late's better than never
Known as a prolific goal-scorer and match-winner, Ings was snapped up by Liverpool in the summer of 2015. However, in his very first training session under Jurgen Klopp, the striker ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament, and was thereby ruled out of the remainder of the season.
At the same time next year, just after warming himself up through a few appearances for the reserves, Ings damaged his right knee. After nine months in the treatment room, he came back, but sporadically featured in the starting XI, due to the establishment of the Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino trio.
After the Englishman requested a transfer, Southampton decided to cash in on the former Burnley man on an initial loan deal. Seven league goals in his first season at St. Mary's were enough to convince them to offer a permanent deal.
He glimmered intermittently, only displaying flashes of the sharpshooter we had seen earlier during his Burnley days. However, a brace in a 4-0 rout of Portsmouth this season came as a welcome break, as he handed his manager another selection headache.
He scored again in a 2-1 defeat to Spurs, finding the back of the net in the next two games as well.
The Ings coup, however, began when he levelled the scoring against Everton in November. Southampton would go on to surrender all three points to a Richarlison-inspired Everton, but something began to stir among the players, and Ings, of course.
The Englishman scored six goals in as many appearances after that equaliser, and romped to the top of the scoring charts alongside the likes of Jamie Vardy, Tammy Abraham and Sergio Aguero, among others. These goals were far from scant consolations; they were priceless lifelines.
With 15 goals, he is now enjoying his best-ever Premier League campaign, having broken his own record of 11 in his debut season for Burnley. The talented forward took a while to get into his own after dreadful years at Liverpool, but he has now entrenched himself as the club's main man.
Ings has the makings of a complete forward
It may well be argued that the best of the large pool of Southampton forwards has outclassed his peers as of today, especially in the top-flight.
After various injuries to both his knees, Ings is finally maintaining his shape and fitness. It's not easy to spend 18-20 months on the sidelines in the space of two-and-a-half years or so, but he is now at the peak of his powers. Despite a couple of injuries that have previously ended many careers, Ings is demonstrating his brilliance repeatedly at the top level. That, first of all, is commendable.
What makes him a typical English forward in arguably the most demanding league in the world is his incredible never-say-die attitude off the ball. The marksman spends almost half his time in his own half, chasing players down and shutting down gaps, while also forcing the opposition to quicken their passing game.
Ings is always around, sniffing danger, rubbing shoulders with the opponent ballplayers and pressing them. Couple that with serious bursts of pace in transition, and you have the main man of your counter-attacking setup. 34 tackles, six interceptions, 11 clearances and 19 blocks speak for themselves.
Further, he has marvellous anticipation, always aware of what is coming into the box. With fine crossers of the ball such as James Ward-Prowse and Ryan Bertrand in the side, the instincts of a real poacher are invaluable. It comes as no surprise then, that Ings has scored many goals by pick-pocketing defensive and goalkeeper errors.
The forward is also skilled with both feet, meaning he skips past challenges with ease and has good balance with the ball. He is physical, quick on his toes and a real fighter throughout his time on the pitch.
Over the last six months or so, the Winchester-born man's contributions have reminded us of the all-round abilities that earned him an England call-up back in 2015.
Breaking down just how important he is to Southampton
With Ings having forged himself into a first-team star in the South East, it's now essential to analyze how crucial he has been to the team's fortunes.
The main aspect of the club's rise has been the way Hasenhuttl has sorted out his tactics and shored up the back line. But on a personal level, Ings has upped his game substantially, and that has been a key factor behind the club's upturn in fortunes.
When he signed for Liverpool after just a year in the Premier League, it was certain that media outlets would publish pros and cons of the signing, especially after the Reds had lost their superstar, Luis Suarez. These papers cited ball control, aerial abilities and involvement in build-up play as Ings' potential weaknesses, in contrast to a few of the aforementioned strengths.
Speaking of his consistency, it wasn't always there, with a period during the 2014/15 season when Ings' form nose-dived, and he went 10 games without a goal or an assist.
This season, Hasenhuttl's direct, incisive style of play has resulted in a better campaign for his forwards, especially Ings. Be it off the bench during the finishing stages of a game, or from the starting line-up, the striker produces the goods more often than not.
Another indication of the manager playing his best player to his strengths is the way he lines him up to play the daring passes or run at defenders on his own. Ings completed 20.6 passes at 70% on average back in 2014/15, as opposed to the 14.4 he completes this season at an accuracy of just 58%.
That implies that he has been asked to spend time in zones from where he can affect the score-line, and not just remain a part of the build-up.
The timing of his goals
Most markedly, putting his game's personal advancements aside, the manner and the timing of his goals have proven to be invaluable to the Saints.
A 9-0 defeat, three consecutive losses for the first time since Mark Hughes' dismissal, worst-ever home form in the calendar year 2019, and a tendency to leave big gaps while defending greatly damaged Southampton's survival chances.
However, Ings took it on his own to take them out of the mire and into the sunlight.
Out of the 10 league games Southampton have won, Ings has either scored or assisted in six of them. In total, his goals at crucial junctures of a win or a draw have resulted in 18 points for the Saints.
He helped his side salvage draws against Arsenal and Crystal Palace, while his winner against Spurs got St. Mary's bouncing in joy after months of despair. His only brace of the season - against Aston Villa - put the game beyond doubt as Southampton secured a 3-1 win.
Time and time again, the finisher has stepped up to the occasion for his side. Considering the situation the side was in at the start of the season, and where they are now, Ings deserves the majority of the credit.
He sparked the change, almost single-handedly. Years down the line, the Saints' faithful will remember their own academy reject as someone who turned around what could've been a wasted career, and gave everything for the club every time he put on the jersey.Published 08 Apr 2020, 14:45 IST