Southampton head into the second-leg of their Europa League qualifier with everything to play for as they were held to a 1-1 draw by FC Midtjylland of Denmark at St Mary’s last week.
After ex-Saint Tim Sparv’s 20-yard strike silenced the home crowd on the brink of half-time, Jay Rodriguez popped up to score from the spot with his first goal since March 2014 to ensure the Hampshire side didn’t suffer a damaging defeat.
It was after this goal that the South-coast outfit really began to take control as Maya Yoshida had a header tipped onto the post by Midtjylland keeper Johan Dahlin who was soon called into action again, this time preventing Steven Caulker.
With 60% possession during the game, Southampton really failed to capitalise on some questionable defending and when they did get the ball in the back of the net for what they thought was their second, it was disallowed due to a push from Caulker.
It’s clear that tonight will be a tough test for Ronald Koeman’s men as Midtjylland have a remarkable home record.
Out of their last 15 games at the MCH Arena, they have only failed to win on three occasions and, as a result, currently sit top of their domestic division, the Superliga, with a four-point gap.
The Moneyballers, as they have become known, will also being seeing the tie as a second opportunity to play in Europe this season, after they got knocked out of the Champions League by Apoel Nicosia.
Furthermore, with Nigerian striker Paul Onuachu scoring twice in the last five games and last week’s scorer Sparv looking impressive, it will be hard to keep out the Danish champions.
Boss Jess Throup has been incredibly influential since arriving after he left his post as Denmark’s under-21s manager and is building a squad with fight, ambition and, at the moment, momentum.
However, we mustn’t overlook Southampton. While their domestic campaign hasn’t exactly flourished as of yet this season, they do have players that can win them matches.
Italy international Graziano Pelle is more than capable of scoring those all important goals whilst youngster James Ward-Prowse produced a man-of-the-match performance in the first-leg with some superb deliveries.
The England under-21 international was rested for the weekend draw at Watford, only coming on for the last 20 minutes, so should be full of energy.
In terms of team news, Sadio Mane may only be fit enough for a place on the bench after picking up a groin injury at Vicarage Road, while Ryan Bertrand is still sidelined with a knee problem.
Vicotr Wanyama, who has been linked with Tottenham, will not feature and Jordy Clasie (hamstring) is still out.
As for Midtjylland, there have been no major injuries picked up meaning that their starting line up looks to be the same as that at St. Mary’s, as the Danes look to make the Europa League group stages for the first time since 2007.
Key Men: Midtyjlland – Tim Sparv; Southampton – Graziano Pelle
Shoot Says: 1-2 (Southampton to win 3-2 on aggregate)