RALPH Hasenhuttl claimed Mohammed Salisu is “against the ball, one of the best defenders in the league” as the Ghanian finds his best form again.

The 23-year-old struggled towards the back end of last season, along with the rest of the team, as Saints won just one of their final 12 Premier League matches.

Manager Hasenhuttl admitted noise surrounding Salisu after impressive performances versus the likes of Manchester City likely did not help the defender focus.

Although Saints are yet to keep a clean sheet this season, Salisu and new partner Armel Bella-Kotchap have both received acclaim for their individual performances this season.

Salisu, who is now a full Ghana international after accepting their invitation to play for his country, will have to lead a partnership with Duje Caleta-Car following Bella-Kotchap’s injury.

“I think against the ball he's one of the best defenders in the league, for sure. With the ball, he has definitely room to improve and he knows this, he has had better games,” Hasenhuttl reflected.

“The interesting thing is as long as we didn't build up a lot and keep doing more long balls, he was even better. I think that as soon as we started building up, the mistake growth rate goes up a little bit.

“So this is something he has to work on. But he did in the past times when he was confident and then he showed how good he can be and I expect him to step up there and getting better.”

Hasenhuttl added: “It seems the noise didn’t help him last season. I’m never a friend of praising players too much in the media because it is for only one reason that they get a little bit distracted or think we are not big enough for us anymore.

“I don’t want to say this happened with Sali, definitely not. But for me it is always much better when we are below the radar, to develop their game and work on their weaknesses as a young player.

“It is hard because in the Premier League you are always in the window and this is normal. Especially in English football culture, it is about creating the stars and speaking about individuals.

“This is what makes the Premier League special in some moments as everyone wants to be here but sometimes as a manager it doesn’t make life easier. With some young players, we have to bring them back on the ground a bit in some moments.”

Salisu made his debut for Ghana in September, having been used as a half-time substitute in a 3-0 friendly loss versus Brazil – but all three goals came before he entered the pitch.

Salisu, who had turned down the Ghana FA on a number of occasions to focus on club football prior to last month, then played 90 minutes of a 1-0 win over Nicaragua.

“He was not keen to play there for a long time but now he wants to play there and I think it is always something special to play for your country,” Hasenhuttl added.

“And this is what should normally lift your self-confidence absolutely. I've seen it very often in players that are going to the internationals and coming back like they've grown with confidence and this is normally always a positive thing.” 

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