Southampton kicks off their Europa League campaign with a home tie against AC Sparta Praha at St Mary’s Stadium on Thursday in Group K.
It hasn’t been a great start to the opening of the Premier League season for new Saints boss Claude Puel, as they look to have a winning start in Europe having automatically qualified in spectacular sixth place finish last season proved a spine-tingling moment for fans alike.
The French manager has a point to prove and a winning start could have a positive and important impact, not just in this competition but can create a domino effect in the domestic league as well, after they suffered a late defeat at Arsenal when the Gunners came from behind to win in injury-time on Saturday.
The fixture is a landmark for Saints and they are favorites in their group, as they return to Europe after over three decades away from major competitions on the continent.
But having an extra competition for Saints to participate in can inspire changes and a rise in confidence to build on for Saturday’s meeting against Swansea along with the rest of the fixtures.
However, Sparta will not be pushovers and won’t let Southampton gain an easy win. The Czech Republic giants have 14 points from 6 games and sit in second in the Czech First League and with their most successful spell in the Europa League coming last season, the quarter-finalists will be hoping to emulate their success.
But these two teams are an unknown quantity to each other as this game will be their first meeting, as Southampton make their debut in the UEFA competition in the group stages.
At the moment Saints have no new injury concerns other than Jeremy Pied who is out with a long-term knee injury. However, club record signing Sofiane Boufal is still not up to match fitness and isbe expected to be sidelined.
Sparta Praha have a concern over midfielder Borek Dockal, who has been an absentee for them for the last few weeks also with a knee injury, and Martin Frydek is also a doubt.