The Saints will certainly look to compete on a better front in Europe this season after an embarrassing attempt last season getting knocked out by Midtjylland losing 2-1 on aggregate. They kick-start their Europa League campaign against Sparta Prague tomorrow night in an attempt to rectify what went wrong last season.
Here’s how Saints opposition presents themselves ahead of match day 1.
Sparta Prague (Železná Sparta) will look to improve domestically and in the league this season after finishing second in the Czech First League to Viktoria Plzen last season by seven points.
Prague only inflicted six defeats throughout the season and finished the campaign with the best defensive record in the league, conceding just 24 goals, whilst finishing second for the most goals scored with an astounding 61 goals.
There was an obstacle Prague had to overcome before there match with Southampton in the Europa League, they faced a very stubborn SønderjyskE in a qualifier who dug in deep against the Czech side, but Prague eventually come out winners winning 3-2 on aggregate over the two legs after settling for a stalemate draw on the return leg.
Sparta Prague are currently sitting in second place of the Czech First League picking up 14 points from six games, which leaves them trailing Zlín by just two points.
Železná Sparta are on a seven-game unbeaten run thus far in all competitions with three draws and four wins, with their most impressive win coming in a 3-0 victory over Jablonec back in August.
Prague haven’t conceded a goal in their last four games and have scored five in the process, so their defensive stability will certainly test Southampton’s attacking force on Thursday evening.
One to Watch – David Lafata
A club which doesn’t possess many big names, David Lafata is the man who presents the biggest threat to the Southampton back line.
At 34-years-old many may not be worried about the Prague’ hit man, or have even heard of him, but Lafata is lethal in front of goal and has been top scorer in the Czech First Division five times in the last six seasons.
Lafata has once again hit the ground running this season with four goals to his name already, including one in the Europa League play-off victory against SønderjyskE.
The former Czech Republic international has netted goals on the big occasion, with goals against Borussia Dortmund and Schalke to his name. The forward was prolific for Prague in the Europa League last season, netting five goals in nine games in their run to the quarter-final.
A stat that will scare the Saints backline is the fact Lafata has scored 63 goals in 98 league appearances for the club, proving his worth and deadly finishing.