Puel’s men defeated Sparta 3-0 in their opening Group K game in September but the Czechs have seen an upturn in form under their new coach, David Holoubek, who replaced Zdenek Scasny soon after their defeat on the south coast.
Under Holoubek, Sparta have won three in succession in Europe and now head the group before the match at the Generali Arena. The Southampton manager said: “Sparta are a good team with technical players and a good collective. They have another trainer now and he changed, not the system, but a little the philosophy. It’s a strong team, with a strong defensive block and it will be difficult.
“It’s a difficult game, an important game, because if you can take three points it’s important for the squad.”
Shane Long hopes to inspire the bid to reach the knockout stages after leaving his newborn son. Long’s preparations have included Jax Anthony coming home for the first time. Asked if it had been difficult to leave his son behind, the 29-year-old said: “It has been tough. We had him last Monday. He is now nine days old. We didn’t get him home until Sunday, so I’ve only had two or three days with him. It is amazing. It is a madhouse now with three kids under six but I’m loving every minute.
“It’s nice to come back into the squad and be where we are in the table. It is a massive game for both sides. For them it could mean qualification from the group and the same for us. They are a different team to the one we faced in the first game.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010