Southampton wrapped up a decent pre-season with a 2-1 loss against Champions League semi-finalists Villarreal. Despite it being a losing effort, it was one that Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl will be happy with - a performance that looked solid in defense and brilliant at times going forward.
Who stood out as one of Europe’s top teams came to town on the south coast? Some stood out and almost wrote their own names on the opening day’s team sheet, whereas others may have seen their squad numbers fall down the list towards the substitute’s bench.
Here's how the Southampton players rated during the Villarreal friendly:
Gavin Bazunu - 7
Following on for an impressive performance against RB Leipzig, Bazunu returned to the starting line-up and didn't have too much to do overall. He looked comfortable on the ball and wasn't at fault for the first goal, claiming the ball authoritively from set-pieces when needed to bring a commanding presence between the sticks; something that Southampton haven't had over the last couple of seasons. The Irish international did pretty much all he was asked to do and looks set to dethrone Alex McCarthy to become Southampton's number one this season.
Walker-Peters was back in his natural position on the right-hand side and did well defensively. He put in a few good tackles and some brilliant blocks on the byline outside of the penalty box to prevent crosses inside, looking as consistent as ever if unremarkable today.
Southampton have often lacked a strong physical presence in their back-line, but Bella-Kotchap brought muscle today - consistently standing tall and refusing to be bullied by Villarreal's Gerard Moreno. He was a little too aggressive in places and conceded a couple of fouls, and may be a young defender that Hasenhuttl has to tame a little when yellow cards start to be given out as the real season begins. The 20-year-old German also played a couple of beautiful crosses, including one in the 51st minute which gave Djenepo a free chance on goal. It's exciting to see Southampton's centre backs play positive football, especially if they opt to play with a traditionally-defensive five back system next season. He was replaced by Yan Valery in the 72nd minute after Villarreal's second goal.
Jan Bednarek - 5
Bednarek's situation at Southampton is a strange one. He has been a stalwart in the team for a few seasons now, but has recently become a scapegoat amist poor performances and rumours taking him away from the club. Unfortunately for him, he didn't do much to woo the Saints fans today. While not at fault for the first goal, he napped and lost his man for the second - and didn't really do too much else except a few nice interceptions in the first half. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Polish international leave St Mary's this summer.
Mohammed Salisu - 6
Mohammed Salisu was Southampton’s stand out centre-back last season, and did enough to be considered a starter for the opening day next weekend. His tendency to drive up the pitch with the ball may mean he isn’t a natural partner for the similarly aggressive Bella-Kotchap in as a pair, but the Ghanian international was solid today in the back three.
Moussa Djenepo - 8
The stand-out performer of this pre-season was one that Southampton fans might have already given up on. Djenepo continued to prove his doubters wrong with another solid outing, playing as a left wing-back in the tweaked back five system that Hasenhuttl has been trialing over the last few games. He seems to have finally found a role that suits him at Southampton, a left wing-back that presses higher and almost acts as a second winger. The Mali international could've had himself a goal in the 51st minute and hit the side netting in the first half. While he didn't register on the scoresheet, he was good yet again - looking like a completely different player defensively when compared to his clumbsy tackling tendencies from the past two seasons. Many had written him off before the season had even started, but Djenepo looks like a solid option at left wing-back should Hasenhuttl want to deploy that system next season.
The Saints skipper had a chance to make a trademark captain’s contribution with a free-kick in the 41st minute, but other than that Ward-Prowse did little of memory for the rest of the game. He covered loads of ground and was a presence defensively, but didn’t really contribute in the final third as much as he usually does in the Premier League.
Romeo Lavia - 6
Lavia found himself in the starting line-up yet again, and Hasenhuttl’s faith in the new signing means he looks set to become Southampton’s first choice defensive midfielder for the upcoming campaign. He did nothing to change his manager’s mind today and put in a decent performance before being replaced by Oriol Romeu in the 82nd minute.
Joe Aribo - 9
Joe Aribo looks ridiculously good. The Nigerian international scored a solo goal that might've made Soufiane Boufal eat his own heart out: driving all the way up the pitch, drifting past the entire Villarreal back-line and effortlessly placing the ball past Pepe Reina. Every pass he played today seemed to glide across the pitch with attacking intent, every move calculated to drive Southampton down the right hand side and into the penalty box. With several ice cold first touches and an offside goal, Aribo brings a sense of calmness and clinicality that Saints wide players have lacked since the depature of Sadio Mane. Southampton's new number seven already looks right at home after trading the snowy Scottish suburbs for south coast sun, and looks set to take the Premier League by storm. He was replaced by Nathan Redmond in the 82nd minute.
Stuart Armstrong - 7
Playing out of position as one of two strikers, the Scotsman put in a classic consistent performance. Stuart Armstrong has proved to be a dependable asset wherever deployed, a Swiss army knife always on hand to help no matter the occasion. He didn't contribute too much in the middle of the field and did his best work after moving to the right-hand side, where he naturally plays for Southampton. Some nice forward passes topped off a good but unspectular performance for Stuart Armstrong today. He was replaced by Romain Perraud in the 82nd minute as Southampton made changes to the system.
Sekou Mara - 6
After signing for the Saints on Monday, Sekou Mara made his debut in the starting line-up against Villarreal. The 19-year-old Frenchman was energetic and brought intensity to the attack force, but without a natural striker next to him to calm and feed off of him, Mara struggled to make an impact before being subbed off for Adam Armstrong at half-time. He was fast but passed past a few times, and didn't look used to the intensity of press that has been drilled into the Southampton players during Hasenhuttl's tenure. A young talent with lots to learn, but a talent who looked promising in his first outing in a Southampton shirt.
Adam Armstrong - 6
The second Armstrong entered the pitch at half-time, but never really joined the game and struggled to get involved throughout the second half. Much like Mara who he replaced, he was fast and attempted to press in the final third, but Armstrong didn't manage to make many tackles and failed to contribute anything significant in his 45 minutes of play. A quieter performance today after being otherwise impressive in pre-season.
Yan Valery - 6
You wouldn't have been scoulded for forgetting that Yan Valery was on the pitch today after replacing Bella-Kotchap, as he played a pretty unremarkable 30 minutes of football. The Frenchman put in a very impressive showing last time out against Monaco, but didn't do anything of note today.
Nathan Redmond - 6
Redmond had 10 minutes to shine, and big boots to fill after replacing Aribo. He was fast and eager to do something, but the only legacy he left was an awful scuffed shot that almost hit the corner flag in the 85th minute.
Oriol Romeu - 7
Romeu must have made Hasenhuttl scratch his beard in the ten minutes of football he played. As said above, Lavia looks to start as Southampton's main defensive midfielder this season, but Romeu made a couple of brilliant interceptions with unheard-of pace that staked a claim for maintaining his position in the starting line-up this season. His highlight came through the interception that led to Redmond's wayward shot.
Romain Perraud - 6
He didn't have much time to make an impact at all, but played a really good ball towards the back post in the 87th minute which may have been a misplaced shot instead. In the few minutes he had he looked sharp, but Perraud didn't do enough to get himself off of a six rating.