Theo Walcott believes an intense final pre-season examination will serve Southampton well when the Premier League season gets under way at Everton next weekend.
Saints were beaten for the first time in five friendlies as Athletic Club ran out 3-1 winners at St Mary’s.
Walcott came on at half-time and made an immediate impact, bringing the hosts back into the game at 2-1 as Saints started the second period on top.
“It was very intense. Watching in the first half, we knew it was going to be a stronger challenge,” he said.
“Spanish teams tend to be very good technically on the ball, very difficult to break down, very organised and know when to stop and start a game.
“We learned a lot today, an intense game, I feel like fitness levels are getting there now, and we’ve got a good week’s training now before Everton.
“I can speak for everyone – everyone feels pretty fit. The past couple of years no one has really had a pre-season, so it’s the first one in a few years.
“We’ve got a few more numbers now for competition for places, which is really important, especially when you come into the Christmas period, and I think the manager’s got some good options to take into next week.”
Walcott’s goal was his second of the summer and came courtesy of an assist from 18-year-old debutant Tino Livramento.
“I’m always happy to score, obviously, and being at St Mary’s as well is always a nice feeling,” he continued.
“For me, personally, it’s a good habit to be in, to go into the season and take that goalscoring into the Premier League, because that’s where it counts.
“He (Tino) has fitted straight in. He’s got his head down and trained really hard. He’s physically a very gifted young boy, and you can see already he’s got talent.
“It’ll take time with it, because he’s very young and I know how that feels, but I just said to him ‘go out there and enjoy it. You don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Just enjoy it, enjoy playing football you’ll express yourself.’
“He showed today he was very steady and very good on the ball, and obviously getting that assist, which was really pleasing to see.”