Southampton make their Europa League debut with a home tie against Czech Republican giants Sparta Prague. New Southampton boss Claude Puel is yet to win a single game since taking charge of the Saints back in the summer after Ronald Koeman’s move to Everton and will be hoping that he can mark such a big occasion for the club with a win. The South Coast side from England crashed out of the playoffs last season but finishing sixth in the league last season gives them automatic qualification to the Europa League group stage.
With Sparta Prague, Inter Milan and Hapoel Be’er Sheva alongside them in the group, the Saints would definitely have liked an easier draw. However, there is a definite sense of optimism growing around the fans ahead of their first ever Europa League game. Sparta Prague know Europa League football inside out and made it to the knockout stage 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.
On paper, Southampton look much stronger when compared to the Czech side but a game in hardly won on paper and Sparta will be a tricky side to overcome for the Saints.
Southampton have no fresh injury concerns. Jeremy Pied and Florin Gardos are long-term absentees while Sofiane Boufal, Southampton’s club record signing, is not yet fit enough to make his debut.
The Czech side have a clean bill of health.
Predicted lineups and tactical setups
Claude Puel has used a 4-4-2 diamond formation so far at Southampton and is likely to stick to it. Fraser Forster will start under the bar behind the back four of Cedric Soares, Virgil van Dijk, Jose Fonte and Ryan Bertrand. Romeu is likely to continue plying his trade in defensive midfield while Clasie and Davis are likely to line up as the two box to box midfielders. Dusan Tadic will start at the tip of the diamond while Nathan Redmond and Shane Long are likely to feature as the two strikers.
Starting XI: Forster; Soares, van Dijk, Fonte, Bertrand; Romeu, Davis, Clasie, Tadic; Redmond, Long
Sparta Prague will line up their natural 4-2-3-1 formation. Koubek will start under the bar behind the back four of Karavaev, Holek, Kadlec and Nhamoinesu. Vacha and Marecek will star in the middle of the park. Experienced Tomas Rosicky will start as the number ten while Sural and Kadlec are likely to start on the flanks. Skipper David Lafata will spearhead the attack for the visitors.
Starting XI: Koubek; Karavaev, Holek, Kadlec, Nhamoinesu; Vacha, Marecek; Sural, Rosicky, Kadlec; Lafata.