Southampton are set to embark upon their first UEFA group stage campaign tonight, as they welcome Czech side Sparta Prague to St Mary’s. And despite a shaky domestic start, the Saints will be looking to end their winless run under new boss Claude Puel with victory in Europe.
The south-coast outfit only just missed out on a Europa League group spot last season, but an impressive sixth-place finish in the Premier League in 2015-16 meant Puel’s men avoided the gruelling qualification process this time around.
Sparta Prague, on the other hand, have already faced four competitive European fixtures so far this season.
After missing out on a Champions League spot following a 3-1 aggregate defeat to Steaua Bucharest, last year’s Czech Liga runners-up were thrown into the Europa League final qualifying round, where they defeated Norwegian side Sonderjyske 3-2 on aggregate.
This will be the first time that the two sides will have met, but the Czech side’s record against English teams on the whole will give Southampton fans every reason to feel confident.
In 18 ties, Sparta Prague have won only three matches against English opposition, the most recent coming back in 1983 against Watford, while Zdenek Scasny’s men have also failed to win any of their last three away ties in Europe (D1 L3).
However, what will be of concern to Saints fans is their side’s form going into this one. After ending last season with a staggering eight league wins from their remaining ten fixtures, they’ve struggled to get going this season and are yet to get their first win of the campaign.
Meanwhile, Zelezna Sparta have enjoyed a fine start to their domestic campaign, finding themselves second in the table after six games, winning four and drawing two.
Making a quick return to England is former Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky, who was released by the Premier League club back in the summer.
The 35-year-old has returned to the side where he spent the early parts of his playing career and the Saints midfield will have to be on their toes to keep him out of the game.
At 3/5, Southampton will certainly fancy their chances in this one, with fans desperate to get back to winning ways, while 19/4 says Sparta Prague pull off a surprise victory.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.