Saints lost 4-0 to Udinese in their final friendly match before the start of the season. The end result was perhaps slightly harsh on the home side, who did not play as badly as the score-line suggested. That said, Udinese were different class, and clinical in front of goal.
Nigel Adkins named what could very well be the same starting eleven that lines up against Manchester City next week. The Saints boss also welcomed back Tadanari Lee into the fold. The Japanese star made a long awaited return from injury, warming up with the rest of the team, without actually playing any part in proceedings on the pitch.
Saints took a positive approach to the game from kick-off, but were always going to struggle to match such a high calibre opponent. Udinese gave a glimpse of what was to come in the opening five minutes when Colombian full-back Pablo Amero smashed a powerful drive at Kelvin Davis. The Italians dominated the next 10 minutes, and took a deserved lead when the irrepressible Antonio Di Natale struck the ball into the top corner from outside the area.
Saints played well in patches, but struggled to break down a disciplined Udinese defence in the final third. The best openings for the home side came from crosses and set pieces. Jos Hooiveld should have found the net, but he headed Danny Fox's corner over the bar from close range. Morgan Schneiderlin then found himself in unfamiliar territory on the right wing, where he put in a perfectly weighted ball for Rodriguez. The former Burnley man had his header saved, however. Saints were made to pay at the other end soon after. Ruthless Udinese made it 2-0 through Brazilian new-boy Willians, who beat Davis with another unstoppable effort. Credit must go to Saints for the way they stuck to their principles, resisting the temptation to knock it long. The ball remained on the ground, but Udinese never looked like surrendering their lead. They pretty much put the game to bed before half time, when Di Natale hit a beautiful volley to make it 3-0.
Saints made a number of changes at half-time, with Paulo Gazzaniga, Luke Shaw, Steven Davis and Billy Sharp all coming on. Adkins altered the shape slightly, with Davis playing in a deeper role in place of James Ward-Prowse. The home side began the second half brightly, and were unlucky not to pull a goal back after putting together a superb piece of play. Davis and Adam Lallana carved the Udinese defence open with a superb bit of one-touch play, before playing in Jason Puncheon, who saw his shot go wide. Udinese didn't have many more chances, but every time they went forward they looked dangerous. When Di Natale was played through on goal you would have bet your house on him completing his hatrick. The 34 year old had his shot deflected onto the post however, before Saints cleared the ball to safety. Udinese did get their fourth goal on 64 minutes; when substitute Luis Muriel neatly finished from Di Natale's pass. The visitors then made a host of changes and took their foot off the gas slightly. Di Natale received a deserved standing ovation from the St Marys crowd after putting in one of the best individual showings ever seen at the ground. Saints enjoyed a decent spell of possession in the final 25 minutes, but by that point the game was long since over.
Saints shouldn't be too disheartened by the result. Nobody disgraced themselves; we just came up against a vastly superior team containing at least one world class player. The final score-line was slightly disappointing, but it was always going to be difficult for a newly promoted side coming up against Champions League opponents. Saints fans will have to accept results like these are inevitable this season. It's almost impossible to close the gap so quickly. It shouldn't take away from what has been an extremely successful pre-season. Saints have played good football, adapted to a new system and look to be in tip top physical condition. James Ward-Prowse has emerged from the youth ranks and already looks ready for Premier League football. As does Jason Puncheon, who has worked incredibly hard to put himself in contention. Saints could do with one or two new faces, but the squad is looking good, with new arrivals Steven Davis and Nathaniel Clyne impressing already. We could do a lot worse than learn from today's opponents. Udinese is without doubt one of the best run clubs in the world. They operate a buy low, sell high policy, and always have new talent coming through, making use of an extensive scouting network.
Attendance: 3,744 (74 Udinese fans)
Davis: 6. Couldn't do much for any of the goals.
Clyne: 7. Not quite at the level of previous games, but still very good. Made a few decent runs forward.
Fonte: 7. Probably one of his better games despite the score-line. Read the game well, and timed most of his tackles to perfection
Hooiveld: 6. Up and down performance.
Fox: 6. Put in a few dangerous set pieces
Schneiderlin: 6. Surprisingly off-colour. Passing below the level you would expect
Ward-Prowse: 7. Gave it everything against much more physical opponents. Never once looked out of place or overawed
Lallana: 6. A fairly quiet game. Didn't really sparkle like we know he can
Puncheon: 7. The most impressive player during pre-season had yet another good game. Saints' most creative player
Rodriguez: 7. A much better showing. Decent first touch and movement
Lambert: 6. Didn't really get the service
Gazzaniga: 6. Like Davis, not much to do apart from picking the ball out of the net
Shaw: 6. Looked good going forward, but slightly edgy defensively
Sharp: 6. Like Lambert, didn't really see much of the ball
Guly: 6. Worked hard, but couldn't really unlock the Udinese defence.
Chaplow: Not on long enough to really make an impression