Southampton v Sparta Prague – Thursday 8:05pm, BT Sport 2
After their best ever Premier League finish, Southampton were rewarded with entry to the Europa League group stage for the first time in their history. A European adventure might be just what the club needs after a tough start to this season where they’ve yet to record a win under Claude Puel.
Last year’s Czech Liga runners-up Sparta Prague once again failed to qualify for the Champions League, getting knocked out in the 3rd qualification round for the third consecutive year. As a result it gives them an opportunity to repeat last year’s heroics which saw them reach the Europa League quarter-finals for the first time and importantly they’ve managed to keep hold of the key players that got them there during the transfer window. The only away match they lost in that campaign was their last-eight tie against Villarreal (W3-D4-L1), securing an honourable draw at Schalke and a 3-0 win in Lazio along the way.
However, going back to 1999/2000 Czech sides have gone W0-D2-L7 in their nine trips to English teams in this competition. According to our gradings, the English side were ranked at least 17 places higher in eight of these meetings but currently we have the Saints ranked 41st and Sparta Prague 44th suggesting this will be a much closer contest than 1.62 on Southampton to win suggests.
Puel’s side have yet to start firing this season, struggling to draws at home against Watford and Sunderland, where they were odds-on to win both. Furthermore, when travelling to ‘Big Five’ clubs in the Europa League since 2010/11, Czech teams have avoided defeat in 11 of the 20 encounters. As a result, we’re going to back Sparta Prague or Draw Double Chance.