Ahead of Southampton's opening UEFA Europa League group stage game, we spoke to journalist Radim Trusina to get the lowdown on Sparta.
How will Sparta approach this game?
For Sparta it’s a very important game because every game in this European league is a chance to show that Czech football is still good. If you saw the Euros in 1996 here in England you know that was a good time.
For a team like Sparta who are a transfer-led club they can show that they have good players. They started to sell them in the last year with [Ladislav] Krejčí going to the Italian league with Bologna and [Jakub] Brabec recently to the Belgian league, so for Sparta it’s necessary to play well at this level to sell players.
We’ve seen that Tomáš Rosický has recently re-joined the club, but who else is a threat to Southampton?
It’s exciting, but he [Rosický] is not here for this game because after the last league match he needs one week more of training and to feel better. It’s necessary for Sparta to win the Czech league because they want to go into the Champions League. Sparta was in there for eleven years and being second in the Czech league is hard for qualification so for the team and for Rosicky it’s better to be fit for the Czech league.
David Lafata is the captain of the team and we will see if he plays because he’s 35 and this is his last season of playing there and at home he suits the style of football. To be honest, these days Sparta Praha is not in top form and there is no really strong side. The strongest part of the side is the goalkeeper now. I don’t know if he’ll be busy to get a good result here, but everybody expects Southampton to be better and stronger. Maybe Sparta will use a fast counter-attack, but they are not in top form.
In that case, will they perhaps play a more defensive style?
I think so, and the other factor is the attendance. There will be 30,000 here creating a good atmosphere whereas in the Czech league it’s totally different. The biggest matches have 19-20,000 people, so here in England is a different world for us. It’s the highest level of what fans can bring to stadiums, and maybe some of the young Sparta players will be a little nervous because it’s England.
Do Sparta see European football as a help or hindrance to their ambitions this season?
The biggest priority is the Czech league. Last season they played in the quarter-final of the Europa League which was a surprise for everyone, but for Sparta the difference is worth around £100m and when you qualify to the Champions League you have the same. You can see for Sparta or any other Czech club that it’s necessary. In England it’s more of a bonus and you can see there’s different money in football here. Czech football is a different world.
How are Southampton viewed as an opponent?
A bit of a surprise for Czech fans because not so long ago they were in the third league, and we used to only know it in Prague because of Matthew Le Tissier who played here, but that was all until last year when people saw that Southampton are at the top level of the Premier League. Maybe still is a small club in England but very modern.
Everyone is very good in the Academy, too. [Gareth] Bale, [Alan] Shearer, [Theo] Walcott, [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain have all played here so Southampton has very big respect. They did well last season against Chelsea and Arsenal who are big clubs with good results, so those and Matthew Le Tissier are what is known, but I don’t think people in Czech Republic know of the current style.
Radim Trusina is a journalist who covers Sparta for the largest Czech daily newspaper MF DNES. (idnes.cz) Follow him on Twitter: @RTrusina.