Saints went down 1-0 to Dutch Champions Ajax, as the club continue their pre-season preparations. The home side acquitted themselves well and can take plenty of positives from the game, despite the result. Saints lined up in a 4-5-1 formation, with Morgan Schneiderlin sitting just in front of the back four. Adam Lallana and James Ward-Prowse played through the middle, with Guly Do Prado and Jay Rodriguez offering support to Rickie Lambert from the wings. Ajax started brightly and controlled possession in the opening stages. The hosts sat back and challenged their opponents to break them down. The rare occasions Saints did get the ball they looked good, passing in neat triangles in the centre of the pitch. For all Ajax's pretty play, they created very little. Their best chance came from a corner, with Siem de Jong heading just over the bar. When Schneiderlin went down with a knock Adkins gave his team a talking to. Whatever he said, it clearly worked. Saints dominated the latter part of the first half, and played some eye-catching football. On 18 minutes Rickie Lambert received the ball with his back to goal from Danny Fox, but was unable to create an opening in a crowded penalty area. Most of Saints' attacks came through the middle, with Nathaniel Clyne also adding plenty of impetuous with his pace down the right hand side. Lallana, Ward-Prowse and Guly brilliantly combined in midfield before playing in Jay Rodriguez. The former Burnley man found the back of the net, but was flagged offside. The chances kept on coming for Saints, who made light work of a side gearing up for Champions League football. On 29 minutes Rickie Lambert fired an ambitious 35 yard volley just wide of the post. Clyne then played in Ward-Prowse, who had his shot smothered by the keeper. Just before the interval Lambert had an effort deflected over the bar.
Adkins had made wholesale changes in previous friendlies, but replaced just one starter immediately following the break, with Frazer Richardson coming on for Clyne. Saints' flowing football continued into the second half. Guly put in a wicked cross for Rodriguez, who missed the target on 47. Both teams knocked the ball about well, but clear cut chances were limited. The game entered somewhat of a lull just before Ajax took the lead. Aras Ozbiliz cut in from the left, before firing the ball across goal past Davis. Billy Sharp had the chance to make an immediate impact after coming on as a substitute, but he couldn't convert Schneiderlin's pin-point through ball, dribbling across goal before the Ajax keeper stopped him in his tracks. Ajax grew in confidence after the goal and had a few opportunities to add to their lead. Paulo Gazzaniga had to be at his best to keep out an effort from the edge of the area. The Argentinian then mistakenly played in Ozbiliz with a weak clearance, but wasn't made to pay for his error. Adkins used the last 10 minutes to give some of the fringe players a run-out. They were unable to create anything of note, as the game petered out without much incident.
A decent tactical workout for Saints against top quality opposition. We're four games into pre-season now, and have a much better understanding of Adkins' plans. The days of 4-4-2 and diamond formations look to be over, or at the very least won't be the prominent systems next term. Saints simply can't play the way they did last season and get away with it in the Premier League. Thankfully Adkins has been quick to recognise this. Flooding the midfield with an extra body looks to be the way to go. The early signs are very good. Saints look a lot more organised defensively, but still look extremely creative going forward. The team look more disciplined, and were able to adapt to different roles when required. Saints dominated possession in pretty much every game last season, but won't enjoy such luxury in the Premier League. Fans will have to learn to be patient and accept we will have to soak up pressure before mounting attacks of our own. Adkins' men proved today they are capable of playing that type of game. They limited Ajax to only a handful of chances. There were still some misplaced passes on occasions, but the movement and general play was superb. Saints aren't completely ready yet, but they are a million miles ahead of where they were two weeks ago against Anderlecht. Clyne is living up to the hype, as is Ward-Prowse, who has already overtaken Dean Hammond in the pecking order. No doubt Jack Cork and Steven Davis will come back into midfielder when they return, but Ward-Prowse has certainly done enough to put himself in contention. Lallana thrived in his new central role, while Guly was at his very best on the right. Overall a very pleasing display, which brings much encouragement for the season ahead.
Davis: 6. Distribution below par. Wasn't tested too much before the goal
Clyne: 8. Already looks a class act. Strong both defensively and going forward. Linked up well with Guly on the right
Fonte: 6. At fault for the goal, but otherwise fairly good. Timing was generally decent. Has come in for criticism from fans, but it's too early to write him off just yet. We shouldn't forget what he's done and what he is capable of
Hooiveld: 7. Passing hit and miss, but reasonably solid defensively
Fox: 7. Didn't really do a lot wrong. Looked comfortable on the ball and passed it about well
Schneiderlin: 7. Tidy midfield display, with one particularly impressive through ball
Ward-Prowse: 8. Another composed showing. Covered plenty of ground in midfield
Lallana: 8. Footwork and movement superb as you would expect. Looked very sharp
Guly: 8. Involved in most of the home side's good attacking play, especially in the first half. Created plenty of chances and space for others
Rodriguez: 7. Decent movement and link-up play. Superb technique, but slightly unlucky in front of goal.
Lambert: 6. Struggled to get involved for the most part, but did get a few half-decent efforts on goal in the first period
Richardson: 6. Did well going forward, but not on the same level as Clyne
Shaw: Dealt with the defensive side of things with ease and also got forward with good effect
Sharp: Held the ball up well and created a few opportunities for himself
Gazzaniga: Made one brilliant save, but then let Ajax in on goal with a poor clearance
Hammond: (N/A) Chaplow: (N/A) Puncheon: (N/A) Chambers: (N/A) De Ridder: (N/A)