08/07/2015: RB Leipzig 5-4 Saints
On Wednesday 8th July Saints travelled to the town of Bischofshofen for a match against Germany second tier outfit RB Leipzig. The game was a typical early pre-season affair, with the starting line-up made up of 8 development squad players. Maarten Stekelenburg made his debut between the sticks, as did Juanmi out wide. Gaston Ramirez started following his return from Hull. Leipzig looked slightly sharper in the early going. Nils Quaschner made it 1-0 on 24, rounding Skelenburg far too easily. Lloyd Isgrove was fairly involved in the first-half, as he often is in these games. He pulled the ball back for Juanmi to equalise almost immediately after Saints went behind. Isgrove almost gave Saints the lead a few moments later with a testing header. Much of the action - played on a bog of a pitch - was fairly uneventful, however.
Saints made seven changes at half-time. Jay Rodriguez scored just minutes into his long awaited return, latching on to Sam McQueen's cross at the far post. Saints then fell apart, conceding four goals in the space of 20 minutes. Ronald Koeman's side looked susceptible every time Leipzig went forward. Timo Mauer levelled from a low cross for 2-2. Tim Sebastian then converted a simple header, having been unmarked in the box. Miscommunication between Jack Stephens and Jason McCarthy led to the fourth. Patrick Straus made it 5-2 from a cutback to the edge of the area.
Injuries to Josh Debayo and Ryan Seager meant Cedric Soares and Shane Long were thrown in earlier than anticipated. Soares saw a fair bit of the ball, and looked pretty tidy. The Portuguese full-back's willingness to get forward paid dividends on 79 when he broke through and slotted in at the near post with his left foot. Soares put in a decent cross for Rodriguez, who pulled one back with a looping header on 90.
It was a strange game really. Even when Saints were 5-2 down, there wasn't much in it based on the balance of play. The senior players naturally stood out more than the youngsters. Ramirez threaded some good through balls, while Juanmi looked reasonably sharp in and around the box. The action was never that intense, which was ideal for Rodriguez, who is still feeling his way back into things. Most of the youngsters struggled, but Armani Little -- one of the least experienced players on the pitch -- did reasonably well.
11/07/2015: Saints 0-1 Valencia
Saints moved on to Salzburg on July 11th to compete in the 'Audi quattro Cup'. Hosts Salzburg, Werder Bremen and Valencia were also involved. The long-winded tournament -- similar to the Markus Liebherr cup games hosted at St Mary's in the past -- kicked off with Werder Bremen vs. Red Bull Salzburg. Bremen took their opponents apart, winning 4-0 thanks to some clinical play in the final third.
Saints played Valencia in the second match of the tournament. Koeman's side performed reasonably well, in what was quite an even 45 minutes. Sadio Mane and Jose Fonte both headed against the crossbar during the same move. Saints fell behind within about a minute after that opportunity. Paulo Gazzaniga saved well from Dani Parejo, but couldn't keep out Pablo Piatti's follow-up effort. Saints had a few more half-chances. Harrison Reed hit a couple of tame efforts from distance. Mane used his pace to get in behind on a couple of occasions, while Graziano Pelle was also involved in goalmouth action. Fonte and Gazzaniga were Saints' best players. New boy Cuco Martina looked ok on the ball, but was beaten fairly easily a couple of times when Valencia came forward.
11/07/2015: Saints 0-2 Red Bull Salzburg
Saints' second match followed shortly after against Red Bull Salzburg. The team made a reasonable start, but performed poorly from about 15 minutes onwards. Cedric and Maya Yoshida looked decent in spells, but overall there wasn't much to shout about. Rodriguez missed a chance he would have previously buried with ease. The former Burnley man was naturally still quite rusty. Dusan Tadic was also presented with a decent opening, but dwelled on the ball for too long before Salzburg's keeper Cican Stankovic nipped in for the save. Stekelenburg made a couple of solid saves, but couldn't keep out Harvard Nielsen's 19th minute header. Dimitri Oberlin made it 2-0 on 23, hooking the ball into the far post.
Not the best of starts for Saints, but a few positives to take from the trip. Cedric looks a decent player, and Ramirez showed his worth. As mentioned above, Rodriguez still has some way to go before he's back to 100%, but for now it's just great to see him out there. The jury is still out on Juanmi, Stekelenburg and Martina. Gazzaniga looked assured in goal, but most of the other youngsters failed to impress. Obviously we're not going to start with the line-ups used in these games when the proper stuff gets underway. Upcoming fixtures in Holland will no doubt give us more of an idea about where we are as a team.
Leipzig: Quaschner (24), Mauer (55), Sebastian (59), Kalmar (66), Straus (75)
Saints: Juanmi (25), Rodriguez (53, 90), Soares (79)
Saints: Stekelenburg (K Davis 46), McCarthy, Stephens, Turnbull (Wood), Debayo (Soares 69), Gape, Reed (Little 46), Ramirez (McQueen 46), Isgrove (Hesketh 46), Juanmi (Seager 46 (Long 69)) Gallagher (Rodriguez 46)
Attendance: 10,832 (Approximately 30 Saints fans in the offically allocated section, plus around the same amount scattered around the rest of the stadium)
Valencia - Piatti (23)
Saints: Gazzaniga, McCarthy (Gallagher 42), Fonte, Stephens, Martina, Reed, Wanyama, Isgrove, Juanmi, Mane, Pelle
Subs not used: K Davis, Turnbull, Wood, Little, Hesketh, McQueen
Red Bull Salzburg Details
RB Salzburg - Nielsen (19) Oberlin (23)
Saints: Stekelenburg, Soares, Yoshida, Gardos, Debayo, Gape, S Davis, Rodriguez, Ramirez, Tadic, Long
Subs not used: K Davis, Turnbull, Wood, Little, Hesketh, McQueen, Gallagher