Southampton make their Europa Group stage debut when they host Czech giants Sparta Prague at the St. Mary’s Stadium on Thursday evening. The Saints had struggled at the start of the new season as they are yet to taste a win after four competitive matches. A managerial change, departure of key players like Mane, Pellè and Wanyama has hit the South Coast side badly. However, the fans will be excited ahead of their first ever Europa League group stage game. They reached as far as the final round of qualifying play-offs last season, before bowing out to Danish Superliga outfit FC Midtjylland.
With Inter Milan and Hapoel Be’er Sheva for company, Southampton would have liked an easier group for sure. Sparta Prague have had decent runs in the Europa League in recent years. They have made it to the knockout stages in three of the last four seasons. The Czech side made it to the quarter-finals last season but lost both legs against Spanish giants Villarreal. They had to make it to the group stage of the Europa League overcoming some tough teams and came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 against Danish side SønderjyskE Fodbold in the final playoff.
Sparta Prague will be a tough side to overcome for the Saints but Claude Puel will be looking to mark the Saints’ Europa League debut with a win. Here is the predicted Southampton lineup versus Sparta Prague.
Fraser Forster will start under the bar for the Saints. Claude Puel is likely to stick to the same back four that almost snatched a draw from Arsenal on Saturday. Cedric Soares will start in the right-back position. Skipper Jose Fonte will start at the heart of the defence alongside Virgil van Dijk. Ryan Bertrand is likely to beat young Matt Targett for a place in the left-back position.
Oriol Romeu is the only out and out defensive midfielder Southampton have and he will keep his place at the base of the midfield diamond. Jordy Clasie is likely to keep his place in the middle of the park as a box to box midfielder and Steven Davis is likely to partner the Dutchman in midfield. Dušan Tadic will start at the tip of the midfield and will act as the team’s brain.
Nathan Redmond has been an ever-present member in Southampton’s two-man attack this season and has been impressive. The Englishman will start up front alongside Shane Long who started from the bench against Arsenal.