JAMES Ward-Prowse faces a race against time if he is to be available for the start of the Premier League season.

The midfielder has not played a minute of Saints' past three pre-season matches due to a knee injury.

The club's captain last featured with a 45-minute outing in a behind-closed-doors contest against Fulham on July 24, instead taking a seat in the stands to watch victories over Cardiff, Swansea and Levante since then.

Ward-Prowse is again set to miss out when Athletic Bilbao visit St Mary's on Saturday, Saints' final friendly of the summer before heading to Everton to open the campaign on August 14.

And the 26-year-old, who has incredibly played every minute of Premier League action over the past two seasons, could see that run end later this month.

Asked for an update on Ward-Prowse's fitness, boss Ralph Hasenhuttl told the Saints website: "We don’t want to take any risk with his knee. I think it takes time.

"I am not so sure if he can make the beginner against Everton. But we’ll see.

"It is important that we have him back fully fit and then we can work with him."

England midfielder Ward-Prowse has been the subject of interest from Aston Villa this summer. The Daily Echo understands Saints turned down a £25million bid last month and are very reluctant to lose their skipper during this transfer window.