This is the only the second time these two sides have met, with the previous encounter just over two months ago at St. Mary’s Stadium. On that occasion the, Saints ran out rather comfortable 3-0 winners, courtesy of a Charlie Austin brace and an injury time finish from Jay Rodriguez.
Southampton are looking good to progress to the knockout stages as they are currently second in the group just two points behind leaders Sparta Prague. A positive result in Prague, would mean the Saints could go into the last tie (a home fixture against Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva) confident that their destiny was in their own hands.
However, Sparta know that victory would guarantee them top spot in the Group and automatic progression to the latter stages of the competition. Last year the Czech side reached the quarter finals of this competition, losing to Villareal over two legs, their best performance since a semi-final appearance in the old carnation of today’s Champions League in 1973, where AC Milan knocked out the side from the Czech capital.
Zelezna Sparta’s European pedigree is unquestionable, and Southampton will need to be at their best to secure a positive result.
Southampton’s domestic form is slowly showing signs of improvement. Bar a poor defeat at Hull City earlier this month, Southampton have turned around a poor start to the season and look to continue their evolution under Frenchman Claude Puel. Between Premier League matchdays five and nine, the Saints went unbeaten and rose from 18th to 8th in the league table. A win over Inter Milan at St. Mary’s also went some way to relieving pressure on Puel, who finally seems to be getting into the groove of English football. That said, the Saints remain, points wise, closer to the relegation zone than the top 6. So while this European adventure is a great distraction for the red half of the south coast, it should be noted that notching wins in the Premier League is the number one priority.
Sparta Prague currently sit in 5th position in the Czech league, three points behind city rivals Slavia Prague and the European qualification places for next season. Sparta, while being the most successful side in the league’s recent history, trail league leaders Viktoria Plzen by seven points and lost to the reigning champions last month. Since then Sparta have won two and drawn one league games without conceding a goal. In the Europa League, David Holoubek’s men have only lost once (away at St. Mary’s) and defeated Hapoel Be’er Sheva (twice) and Inter Milan.
Predicted line ups
Sparta Prague predicted starting XI:
Southampton predicted starting XI:
Injuries and suspensions
For Sparta, Martin Frydek is touch and go whether he will return from a cruciate injury in time for this fixture. Odds are that the 24 year old Czech international left sided player will not feature versus the Saints. Lukas Vacha is also a long term injury for Sparta, and like his compatriot Frydek will not feature.
For Southampton Jeremy Pied is the only long term absentee, with Matt Targett nearing full fitness. However, expect the tie in Prague to be too soon for the academy graduate.
Southampton will not find this game as straightforward as the reverse fixture in Hampshire. Sparta go into this game knowing that three points is enough for them to progress, and backed by a vociferious home section, they represent a real challenge for Puel’s side. However, given Southampton’s slow evolution and improvement, expect the Saints to get a hard earned point in the Czech Republic.
Our Prediction: Sparta Prague 1-1 Southampton
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