Saints V Sparta Prague The Preview
Thursday, 15th Sep 2016 13:34
Saints take on Sparta Prague needing a win to kick start their season and take the pressure off of Claude Puel.
Modern football has a trait that is not healthy for the game and that is the way that football managers are given no time to be able to get things right, there is a saying that every manager is only six games from the sack and that has more than a semblance of truth.
Indeed last season there were those that were questioning Ronald Koeman's ability in early January after a defeat at struggling Norwich came on top of 7 Premier League games that had seen only 1 win and a draw to make it 4 points out of 21 and a couple of cup defeats in between for close measure.
So those that are on Claude Puel's back at present would do well to remember that pressing the panic button is not always the best thing to do.
But if Saints fail to beat Sparta Prague this evening the knives will be out for Puel and it will make Sunday's fixture against Swansea City a rocky reception for the Frenchman.
So this game tonight is very important, not just for Saints hopes for proceeding onwards in the Europa League, but to ensure that a little run of poor results does not turn into a crisis.
This is a key game for Saints in pure Europa League terms as well, if things go to UEFA seeding it is Sparta that stand between Saints qualifying for the final 32 or being eliminated, Inter Milan start the group as favourites although in many respects this is due to the seeding rather than the quality of their team, likewise Sparta, in terms of European competition experience they are way ahead of Saints, but in terms of the quality of their squad, we should expect to beat them.
If things go to form then it will come down to beating Sparta tonight and then not losing in Prague.
So beat the Czech side and we have a big advantage going forward, we will be in the driving seat for qualification and can go to Israel with confidence.
For his part Puel has intimated that he will be looking to switch things in the line up, although in fairness he has done so in most games so far, he has a lot of quality and quantity in his midfield and from that viewpoint he needs to rotate players not just to keep them fresh and on their toes but to adapt to the challenges the opposition offer.
On Saturday he got it right in the centre of midfield with Clasie and Romeu putting in great shifts, but there is perhaps scope to bring in Hojbjerg this evening to take the game to Sparta a little more and I expect him to do so.
The real issue is who plays as the main striker up top, he can choose between Long, Austin & Rodriguez or even opt for Redmond and pace over strength.
The crowd will be key, I don't care whether Puel, smiles, shakes hands with his substitutes or picks his nose in the technical area, all I care about is whether he gets it right on the pitch, I think he has shown some great signs of building a team, especially at Arsenal where we were so unlucky at the end, but there are those in the crowd who are almost wanting him to fail and are just waiting for an excuse to get on his back.
They should remember that we all want Saints to do well and to condemn a man after only four games is not being fair and is not right, after six Premier League games last season Ronald Koeman had won only once in the League and was out of the Europa League, if we had judged him then on the standards we are demanding from Puel then we perhaps would not be in the happy position we are to be enjoying six games in the Europa League.
So sit back, support the team and manager and help them to take the team and club forward, don't hinder them !
Photo: Action Images
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