This is the moment you've all beating waiting for since the final whistle blew at the end of the FA Cup Final: Saints are starting their season with a Europa League qualifier.
With Arsenal’s 3-0 win over Aston Villa at Wembley guaranteeing that Southampton had qualified for the Europa League, now Saints have to get into the group stage.
To do so, Saints would need to overcome two double-legged qualifying rounds, with the first one starting tomorrow against tricky Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem.
Because of the coefficient rankings, Southampton were seeded for the draw and pulled out the unseeded Vitesse. However, fans should be cautious as ‘Vitas’ were the highest ranked unseeded team, like Steaua Bucharest were back in 2003.
It should be an advantage to Saints that Ronald Koeman is likely to know how they set up, having managed at the Gelredome at the start of his career and having managed games against them for PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord. Several Saints stars, like Graziano Pellè, Dušan Tadić and Jordy Clasie, will all have had games against the side who finished 5th in the Eredivisie last season.
Vitesse were nicknamed ‘FC Hollywood upon Rhine’ due to high profile drama at the club, and are managed by Peter Bosz, a former Dutch international who had prominent spells at RKC Waalwijk and Feyenoord, and has been in charge since 2013. They are famous for their links to Chelsea, through the association of Roman Abramovich to Vitesse owner Aleksandr Chigirinski.
‘Vitas’ went furthest in the competition when it was under the UEFA Cup format in 2002/03, reaching the third round before going out to Liverpool. Notable ex-players that Saints fans may have heard of are goalkeeper Sander Westerveld, Dutch striker Roy Makaay and former Nottingham Forest striker Pierre van Hooijdonk. Manchester City striker Wilfried Bony also played there before a £12m switch to Swansea.
To give us the lowdown on the opposition, we spoke to Léon Barbiers about the upcoming tie. Léon is a season ticket holder at the Gelredome, and can be followed on Twitter at @MOTTENZEDAN.
St Mary’s Musings: What was the reaction by Vitesse fans when they were drawn against Southampton?
Leon: The reactions to the draw were mixed. Southampton was definitely the toughest club we could draw, so we knew it's going to be a tough matchup.
On the other hand Southampton is a great trip for the supporters and if we were going out in the first round, we would rather do it over there than far away against Rubin Kazan, for example. We're still hopeful for a good result though!
SMM:How do you think Vitesse will set up formation-wise?
LB: Vitesse has lost a lot of its best players this summer, so the team is still forming and I can only guess from what I have seen in pre-season matches. They will probably set up in a typical 4-3-3 formation as they're used to.
Eloy Room on goal. Diks, Kashia, Van Der Werff and Achenteh will probably form the defensive line. For our midfield my bet is on Lewis Baker, Marvelous Nakamba and Valeri Qazaishvili since they played most matches in pre-season together. Up front I'm not sure which players he (Bosz) is going to pick, but I think Denys Olinyk on left wing, Milot Rashica on right wing and Isaiah Brown as centre forward worked best.
SMM:Who is the dangermen Southampton should be particularly cautious of?
LB: Qazaishvili (pictured below, front left) is my favourite player in the current team and probably the most dangerous as well. He's an attacking midfielder with amazing dribbling skills, good technique and cracking shots.
SMM:Is the tag of 'Chelsea reserves' particularly fair, or is it rather insulting?
LB: We're used to being called the Chelsea reserves and other insults by now. Since the takeover of the club in 2010 we became an affiliate of Chelsea and they've been sending 3 to 4 players per season overseas to play and develop at Vitesse. Some successful, some not.
But most of the players we couldn't have signed on our own. Therefore we're grateful that Chelsea helps us to have quality players on loan, but besides that we (the fans) don't really feel a real connection at all. We're an independent club, and are the oldest in the league, founded in 1892. We've never won a league or cup that matters, but the people of Arnhem are proud nevertheless.
SMM:What do you think the aggregate score will be?
LB: I predict 5-3 win for Southampton. 3-1 at St. Mary's, 2-2 in Gelredome.
We thank Leon for his time, and wish the 1,800 Vitesse supporters coming to St Mary's a safe journey to England and back.