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Saints V Sparta Prague ! Dan's Preview
Wednesday, 14th Sep 2016 08:14

Dan brings you his take on the first of six Europa League group games as we entertain Sparta Prague at St Mary's

On Thursday, as we all know, Southampton take on Sparta Prague in their first ever game in the group stages of the Europa League. Last year’s spectacular 6th place finish will provide spine-tingling European nights under the lights of St. Mary’s.

After the robbery that took place in North London on Saturday, Claude Puel has said that this game couldn’t come sooner. Having an extra competition will give good chances to build confidence if the team are struggling a little bit in the league. Saints really need to kick their season off and a win on Thursday will give them confidence to win on Sunday against Swansea and so on.

Prague won’t be a pushover with 14 points from 6 games in the Czech First League and having their most successful spell in the Europa League last season reaching the quarter-finals only to lose 6-3 on aggregate to Villareal.

Sparta also have two players that could provide some danger for the hosts in David Lafata, their 35- year old striker with a strike rate better than a goal every other game, and Thomas Rosicky, less than four months after being released by Arsenal he returns to England.

I can’t see us losing this game which is a positive, but the lack of quality of football in the Czech Republic should mean we get all three points. If we’re to qualify for the knockout stages or even with the group we need to get maximum points from games like these. I think we’ll win 2-0 which will give us enough confidence for Sunday’s game against Swansea.

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pintsizedsaint added 10:19 - Sep 14
Just to repeat a point made elsewhere about concerns regarding our use of the diamond.

indeed people are worried about the diamond. But it really is early days. Nick's article yesterday makes a very good point that RK last year failed to flex the formation we used in the premier league, which resulted in us crashing out of the Europa before it began. It might be the case that Puel is making sure we don't fall down the same trap again.

The word coming out of SFC is that Puel is not wedded to the diamond, but believes that it better suits an extended campaign in Europa. In order to get players accustomed to it, it was necessary to apply it to the premier league. I don't think it's been that bad and, as players get used to it, it actually makes SFC harder to read for opposition (lots of teams knew last year what RK would do and planned accordingly - I particularly recall the first Villa game where this happened).

As such it appears we have a manager who is not only taking the Europa league seriously, but is also providing us with more tactical flex than ever before. Maybe it is a gamble, but only time will tell.
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