A stuttering start to the season for Southampton. Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) looks at whether they can have the measure of Sparta Prague on Thursday night.
Southampton v Sparta Prague | Thursday 20:05 | BT Sport 2
Real puzzle of a match this. Stakes for me will be very low as there are so many questions and what if’s about Southampton. We should get a few of these issues answered here.
Four games into the season and Southampton are yet to win. This was how I foresaw it when I slightly erratically put them up for relegation at 20/1 in my season preview.
The rationale was that (a) it was a big price, (b) there’s an unknown quantity in charge of the club and (c) they may suffer from offloading another batch of talented player.
The tide may have turned though for new win-less manager Claude Puel. His Saints side looked a lot better on Saturday in their match against Arsenal at the Emirates.
What must have really hurt though was the fact they failed to hold out for a draw and succumbed to a 94th minute penalty to lose for the second time this season.
Will that late heartache be a trigger for more gloom or will they take the very real positives out of the game and kick on from here to climb the table? Who knows, but this game may be just the tonic needed or an annoying obstruction on their fixture list.
Puel must want to win this game to get the monkey off his back but he is resting players in the vein of all English sides at this point of the competition.
Saints did the same last season and it backfired when they were knocked out of the competition by Midtjylland before the groups had even been formed.
Their opponents on Thursday had a fantastic run in this competition last season and left Southampton in their wake as they got all the way to the Quarter-Finals.
Unbeaten at home in the group stages, Sparta then knocked out Krasnador from Russia and thumped Lazio 4-1 in the Last 16 to set up a tie against Villarreal.
The Spanish side proved too strong in both legs but it was a great fillip for not just Sparta but Czech football generally as they marched all the way to the springtime.
Prague are 5/1 to win here on Thursday and on last year’s form it’s a price that deserves a second look. However, what puts me off is the fact they lost to Steaua Bucharest in qualifying for the Champions League earlier in the season.
We all saw how awful Steaua were against Man City in the play-off round and if you’re trying to take a formline through that it doesn’t bode well.
That said, I’m not interested in backing Southampton at 4/6 and instead want to find ways of getting with the Czechs. As mentioned, there are just too many question marks in this game to go in heavy so I’m keen to find bigger odds.
I’ll back 0-0 at 13/1 and 1-1 at 7/1. It could be a nervous night for Saints without a win this season and expected to win here. Their opponents will take a draw all day long.
Southampton v Sparta Prague – 0-0 Draw (13/1 Bet Stars)
Southampton v Sparta Prague – 1-1 Draw (7/1 BetVictor)