Daily Echo:

Saints are plotting for a return to European football.

Jack Stephens admitted he and his teammates are still frustrated by their failure to make it out of the group stages of the Europa League last season.

Stephens believes it has added extra motivation for the squad to battle their way back into Europe via the Premier League in the upcoming season, which begins at home to Swansea on Saturday.

He said: “Of course it’s hard because there are so many big clubs in this division and they are spending an awful lot of money.

“It’s always going to be difficult for us, but we feel confident we can beat any team on any given day, so it’s just about getting the consistency right.

“I think if we can do that there is no reason we can’t finish in those European places.

“We tasted it last year and we were disappointed to go out in the group stage.

“It would be nice to get back in it and try and get a bit further.”

Stephens is hoping to back up his breakthrough season last time out by establishing himself as first team regular for the entirety of the upcoming campaign.

The 23-year-old took his chance with both hands after the sale of Jose Fonte and the injury to Virgil van Dijk, and is set to be handed the chance to start this new season under Mauricio Pellegrino.

“I think for me I just want to carry on where I left off last season and cement my place in the team, and help the team get as many points as possible,” admitted Stephens, who says he senses increased confidence in the side after signing off pre-season with a 2-0 win over Sevilla.

“We feel good. It was nice to finish off with a win after the Wednesday night and we feel we are in a good place and ready to start the season.”

The change of manager means somebody new to impress for Stephens, but Pellegrino’s extensive experience as a centre half will surely only help his development further.

“He is very herlpful towards all the players, and has a lot of individual chats,” said Stephens.

“As a central defender it’s nice to be able to speak to someone who has played for so long in that position. It’s always going to beneficial for me.

“He’s come in and brought in a fresh approach and the players seem to have reacted really well.

“We have had a good pre-season and we are ready to go.”