VIRGIL van Dijk has waved away suggestions that Saints' opening Europa League match is nothing more than an unwanted distraction after a slow start to the Premier League season.

The towering Dutch central defender labelled the Group K match against Sparta Prague at St Mary's as an "amazing" chance, and insisted that there is a big opportunity for Claude Puel's side to progress from the group stages.

Saints are yet to taste victory in the league this season and will feel that Swansea on Sunday is a very winnable game.

Yet, Van Dijk is not willing to simply disregard the Europa League, which he feels is a "reward" for all their efforts last term, in which they finished a record-breaking sixth in the top flight.

“I’m looking forward to it a lot, obviously,” Van Dijk said. “As a club it is amazing to be in this competition and Southampton have come far to be in this competition.

“We need to enjoy it, but still we have a lot of opportunities coming to get a result and hopefully progress in the group, too.”

He added: "We need to be fully focused and that’s what we’re doing.

“We play at home and hopefully we get a full house, play some good football and get our first win of the season.”

Rather than a hindrance, Van Dijk views the Europa League as a place to kick-start their season following a slow start under new chief Puel, although accepts that the new tactical system is still a work in progress.

Saints have been deployed by Puel in a diamond 4-4-2 formation that has not yielded positive results so far.

“If you watch our games you can see we’re dominating, we have possession and we create chances," he said. "In the end it’s all about keeping a clean sheet and scoring a goal. So far, it’s not been working so well. But we’re confident that we will be working soon.”

Saints are in a group with tomorrow's opponents Sparta, Israeli champions Hapoel Beer Sheva and Italian giants Inter Milan.

While some disregard the Europa League as a substandard competition in comparison to the Champions League, the 25-year-old doesn't share those sentiments and sees huge potential for Saints in the tournament.

“I played in the Europa League in my second season with Celtic and I think it’s an amazing competition to play in," he said. "To get that opportunity again with Southampton is great, it’s a reward from last season.

“We need to enjoy it but we can’t forget that it’s an opportunity to get a good run and hopefully progress.”