RALPH Hasenhuttl has given a cryptic response after starting with a new formation for the first time against West Ham and picking up a first clean sheet since March, giving nothing away with: “It doesn’t mean we have to play with this shape all the time.”

The Austrian boss has added a refreshing feel of uncertainty to his team and opened the door to the possibility of anything, showing that he is now prepared to be versatile and flexible in shape selection – something that had previously been absent.

A first change came midway through the Manchester United contest, opting to go with a five-at-the-back in an attempt to dig in and protect a slender 1-0 lead – resulting eventually in a good point picked up.

Following that up after the international break with a 4-1-4-1 from the off, it now feels like the opposition can’t 100% accurately predict how Saints will line up on the whistle.

The solid half-back-esque role that Oriol Romeu played helped ensure that the four defenders were always protected, while Moi Elyounoussi and James Ward-Prowse roamed just ahead – although they struggled to put passes together for much of the contest.

Daily Echo: Oriol Romeu's starting position against West Ham was very deep (Pic: Stuart Martin)Oriol Romeu's starting position against West Ham was very deep (Pic: Stuart Martin)

Saints hadn’t looked like keeping a Premier League shutout in recent memory, so you might suggest that Hasenhuttl sticks with that shape in the hope of a repeat – but the boss admits it isn’t quite that simple.

Speaking ahead of the game, he said: “If it would be so easy that would be nice.

“But every team has different strengths and that doesn’t mean that you now play with this shape all the time.

“It can be that it’s a tactically variable game from both sides.”

Saints have had a full week to work on preparation for the contest, while City have had the added distraction of a Champions League tie against German Bundesliga outfit and Hasenhuttl’s former side, Red Bull Leipzig.

They came through that with a 6-3 win at the Etihad, but will now only have two days of training to turn attentions to what Pep Guardiola has described as a ‘dangerous’ Saints side.

Daily Echo: Ralph Hasenhuttl is still searching for a first win of the 2021-22 Premier League campaignRalph Hasenhuttl is still searching for a first win of the 2021-22 Premier League campaign

Hasenhuttl added: “Yeah, in general, I must say that we have this season a very work-oriented mentality in the team and it’s enjoyable for me as a manager, for all the staff, to work with the guys.

“It’s a good atmosphere. Yes, nobody expects that we now take the first win against Man City but this is also the chance.

“Nobody expects something from you and you can go there without – if you want to say it, a big pressure – to win, to must-win there.

“The next two away games are definitely maybe the most difficult in this season, against Man City and then against Chelsea. We must be ready for it.

“We had a good week to prepare, this is all we can do and then then we must show the best possible performance.”