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Thursday Fulham Stuff (01/04/10)

Started by WhiteJC, April 01, 2010, 07:43:26 AM

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Filed under: General — weltmeisterclaude @ 9:09 pm

Terrific game tonight between Arsenal and Barcelona.

Some thoughts:

To me, it looks like you really have to get at Barca down the flanks.  I thought it was going to be Nasri getting behind Alves, but in the end it was down the other side.   This seems to be their only weakness.   You can't bomb forward that much and be watertight at the back.

Fussy refereeing, and the awarding of soft fouls around the field while anything goes in the area (late penalty notwithstanding).   Here's a solution:   for fouls in the area you give a free-kick, unless the player has a clear goalscoring opportunity.     This way silly, innocuous fouls in the area would be punished.  At the moment they are not because the punishment would not fit the crime (entire rugby games are decided in this arbitrary fashion, but this is another argument).    You can foul as much as you like in the penalty area, because no referee will blow for it.   So yes, my proposal:  foul in area when clear in on goal = penalty; foul in area when no goalscoring opportunity = free-kick.    Why not?

Back to the game.   One of Roy's great mentors was Dave Sexton, and one of Dave Sexton's great coaching mantras was counter-attacking.    That's not counter-attacking in the Eastern-European sense, in which you sit back and soak up pressure, then spring back on the break (if anyone wants to understand more about this I've read an absolutely brilliant article by Vaclav Jezek, who coached Czechoslovakia in the 70s.  Jezek describes step-by-step how he taught his team to counter-attack – fascinating).

Anyway, Dave Sexton's version of counter-attacking is what you do when you lose the ball, namely fight like mad to win it back.    This is the norm nowadays, but Sexton used to make this a vital part of his coaching, and focused on engaging his entire team in a hunt for the ball once an attack had broken down.    Roy took this (among other) tactics with him to Halmstads in the 70s, and it helped make him so successful there.

The point here is that Barcelona are so good because they keep the ball so long (so straight away you have far fewer attacks in which to find a goalscoring chance) and then hunt it down so fast when they lose it.  Massively impressive to watch, and Arsenal's feat in getting a 2-2 should not be underestimated here.

Nice to see Ibrahimovic score twice, if only to shut up his doubters over here.    He's the player Zamora would be if he could play like this for the rest of his career, and was even better.    But it raises the question:  is there anyone more like Ibrahimovic in England than Zamora?

Really, games like these are what make football so thrilling.   The tempo is like the old George Orwell writing doctrine:  never use any more words than you have to.    These teams never take any more time, or touches, than they have to.  It's brilliant to see.

West Ham at war with Roy Hodgson: Legal threat over Fulham playing reserves
By Laura Williamson
Last updated at 1:27 AM on 01st April 2010

West Ham are planning to lodge a complaint against Fulham after Roy Hodgson made six changes and lost 2-0 against Hull City on Saturday.

The win gave Hull a Premier League lifeline as they moved level on points with West Ham with a game in hand.

Gianfranco Zola's side only stayed out of the bottom three on goal difference after suffering a sixth consecutive defeat against Stoke City.

A West Ham source said: 'Roy Hodgson admitted on TV that he rested players because he had an important Europa League match coming up. He admitted fielding a weakened team. From our point of view that is awful and we are going to put in a complaint.'

West Ham are planning to lodge a complaint against Fulham after Roy Hodgson made six changes and lost 2-0 against Hull City on Saturday.

The win gave Hull a Premier League lifeline as they moved level on points with West Ham with a game in hand.

Gianfranco Zola's side only stayed out of the bottom three on goal difference after suffering a sixth consecutive defeat against Stoke City.

A West Ham source said: 'Roy Hodgson admitted on TV that he rested players because he had an important Europa League match coming up. He admitted fielding a weakened team. From our point of view that is awful and we are going to put in a complaint.'

He said: 'We have no case to answer. I made the decision to rest four or five players knowing full well I had the right to do that with the quality of players at my disposal. That meant that Murphy, Etuhu, Duff and Zamora (right) didn't play five games in 12 days.'
Hodgson spent the early part of Fulham's European campaign insisting Premier League survival was the club's priority. But now his attitude has clearly changed

Sitting in mid-table, 11 points above the relegation zone, the Fulham boss can afford to prioritise a cup competition. 'We're entitled to focus more on the Europa League,' he said. 'Our performances haven't been worthy of any criticism, but there's no doubt that we've made a conscious decision that the cup competition will be more of a priority than the league because we're relatively safe.

'We looked at it and said we could still be OK, even if we lost every game in the league and the teams below us got more than they'd been getting. we can put the cup matches in the "shop window".'
But, for the teams for whom relegation is still a pressing threat, Fulham's Europa League run could have a real impact on the final league table.

Fulham play relegation strugglers Wigan on Sunday, and, should they beat Wolfsburg, a two-leg semi-final against Hamburg or Standard Liege would have to be squeezed in between matches against Wolves, Everton and West Ham, who play their final away game at Craven Cottage.

In Fulham's defence, tonight's match will be their 52nd of the season and their 15th in a European campaign that is entering its 10th month.

Hodgson said: 'This period I've experienced at Fulham, the number of games, has never happened to me in my life. We've played every three days for three months.

'When I reached the UEFA Cup final with Inter Milan we played 12 games back in 1997, but the ties against Wolfsburg are our 15th and 16th game in this competition.

'That shows you what we've achieved.'

Read more:

Fulham v Wolfsburg – Preview – 1 April 2010
Fulham v Wolfsburg
UEFA Europa League Quarterfinal 1st Leg
Craven Cottage – London, England
1 April 2010 – 20:05 GMT

Fulham continues their improbable UEFA Europa League against reigning Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg on Thursday night.

Fulham v Wolfsburg Preview
After their surprise 4-1 win in the second leg against Juventus, Fulham is now in the quarterfinals and believing they have a chance to win the entire tournament. The English side has most of their key players healthy for the match but have lost their last three matches since the Juventus win.

Wolfsburg started out in the Champions League in the fall but failed to advance to the knockout stage. They defeated Russian side FK Rubin Kazan in the round of 16 with a 3-2 aggregate win. Wolfsburg is 4-1-1 in their last six matches and earned draws in both away matches of the earlier Europa League rounds.

Overall, Fulham have been able to make Craven Cottage a fortress in the last few seasons. They are 9-2-4 in the EPL at the Cottage and have a 6-1-0 in the Europa League. The leading scorers for Fulham in the Europa League are Zoltan Gera and Bobby Zamora. These two players will likely be the starting forwards and proved very successful in the Juventus victory. Wolfsburg's leading scorer in the UEFA Europa League is Grafite who has three goals.

Fulham are growing with confidence and should be the slight favorites for Thursday's match. They've proven they can beat any club at the Cottage and should get a lead heading into the second leg. Wolfsburg will be confident if they can keep it within one goal and get any away goals. A 1-0 or 2-1 scoreline seems most likely.

Fulham v Wolfsburg Prediction
Fulham will iwn the match 1-0.


Roy Hodgson proud over Fulham's Europe run
ROY Hodgson claims that ­Fulham’s historic European adventure already beats ­anything he achieved with ­Inter Milan.

Hodgson took Italian giants Inter all the way to the UEFA Cup final in 1997 before losing to German side Schalke on penalties.

But he reckons leading Fulham to the quarter-finals of the Europa League is a much bigger achievement because of the gruelling nature of the competition.

Hodgson, whose side face German ­champions Wolfsburg tonight, said: “This group of players deserve credit.

“Ten months is a long, long time to be playing. We have been playing since the last week of July and it’s a long haul.

“This will be our 17th game in the ­competition. When I reached the final with Inter, we played 12 games and that was with a two-legged final.

“It’s half a season longer now. That shows you what we have achieved.

“And Inter didn’t confront anything like the standard of opposition we have with Fulham this season.”

Back in 1997, Hodgson’s Inter had a ­relatively soft route to the final, seeing off Guingamp, Sturm Graz, Monaco and ­Anderlecht.

But Fulham have had to beat mighty ­Juventus and Champions League side Shakhtar Donetsk to get this far, as well as Basle and Roma.

Tonight’s test comes against yet another who played in European football’s elite competition this season. Wolfsburg were in the group stages with Manchester ­United.

Midfielder Simon Davies said: “They are a quality team. We have seen videos of them. They are very offensive and score a lot of goals, so it’ll be difficult.

“Maybe the fans won’t find them as glamorous as Juventus, but we’ve got a lot of respect for them in our dressing room.

“We haven’t underestimated them. It’s a quarter-final and we’re playing the ­German champions. There’s enough there to get us going.”

The Europa League often takes a back seat to the Champions League, but ­Davies reckons a proposal to give the winners of the former a place in the latter would change that.

He said: “I’m sure it would give the ­competition a boost. The Champions League is the pinnacle of club football.”

Fulham star Schwarzer plans to erase Euro misery
LONDON (AFP) - Mark Schwarzer is desperate to make amends for one of the worst moments of his career by helping Fulham continue their Europa League fairytale with a quarter-final victory over German champions Wolfsburg.

Australian goalkeeepr Schwarzer was a member of the Middlesbrough team that enjoyed a remarkable run to the UEFA Cup final in 2006, only to see their dreams of winning the club's first European trophy brought to an abrupt halt as Sevilla thrashed them 4-0 in Eindhoven.

Schwarzer still winces when he thinks back to that night, but the Europa League - the rebranded version of the UEFA Cup - has provided him with far more enjoyable memories this season.

Roy Hodgson's side emerged from a tough group including Roma before eliminating holders Shakhtar Donetsk in the last 32.

That was just the warm-up for the greatest result in the unfashionable English club's history as they over-turned a 3-1 first leg deficit to knock out two-time European champions Juventus on a magical evening at Craven Cottage.

And with a place in the final now within touching distance, Schwarzer is eying a shot at redemption.

"It's always heartbreaking to lose a major final. We lost 4-0, but I don't think that was a fair reflection of how the match went," Schwarzer said.

"We were a goal down with 15 minutes left and pushed forward, and they hit us on the break.

"To have the opportunity to play in another final again would be unbelievable.

"The team's hungry to be successful and it's showed in our performances so far. I'd love to go all the way."

If Fulham are to add Wolfsburg to their growing list of scalps, they need another influential performance from Hungary midfielder Zoltan Gera, whose two goals in the second leg helped sink Juventus.

Gera's imagination, limitless energy and eye for goal have been an ideal foil for the more direct qualities of striker Bobby Zamora.

The pair tormented Juve's World Cup winning defender Fabio Cannavaro to such an extent that he was sent off for fouling Gera before half-time and they are set to lead Fulham's attack again on Thursday.

They will need to be at their best as Hodgson's side have lost all three matches - including an FA Cup quarter-final against Spurs - since beating Juventus, but Gera insists Fulham's thirst for success hasn't been quenched just yet.

"It's already a big achievement to have reached the last eight of the Europa League but we're still hungry," Gera said.

"Wolfsburg are a good attacking team that score a lot of goals. We need to be very careful against them because they have some top strikers and attacking midfielders.

"We need to defend well but they do concede so hopefully we can score some goals. It's very important to keep a clean sheet in these types of games."

Fulham's cause would be helped if highly-rated Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko is unable to recover from a knee injury.

Dzeko, a reported transfer target for Arsenal and Chelsea, scored twice in the weekend win at Mainz before he suffered the injury in training on Monday, leaving Wolfsburg coach Lorenz-Guenther Koestner concerned that his star player won't be able to make the trip to London.

Fulham v Wolfsburg: Roy Hodgson insists he has no case to answer on weakened team
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson is adamant he has no case to answer after fielding a weakened team against Hull City last weekend in preparation for Thursday night's Europa League quarter-final against Wolfsburg.

Struggling West Ham United are reportedly ready to make a complaint to the Premier League after seeing Hull, one of their rivals in the battle to survive relegation, beat an under-strength Fulham team 2-0 last Saturday, to boost their prospects of staying in the top-flight. The result left West Ham in 18th place, above Hull on goal difference.

Hodgson, mindful of the impending match against German champions Wolfsburg, rested Bobby Zamora, Danny Murphy, Aaron Hughes, Dickson Etuhu and Damien Duff at the KC Stadium and all are likely to start on Thursday.

But the Fulham manager, who revealed striker Zamora had to be sent home from training on the eve of the game after suffering from a cold, insists he would fight his corner if West Ham pressed ahead with any complaint.

"We have no case to answer, I am perfectly happy with the team selection," Hodgson said. "I'm planning for Zamora to play against Wolfsburg. We'll play our best team, so it would be a great disappointment if he's not able to play.

"We haven't prioritised, but in one particular game, after we played Juventus, Manchester City and Tottenham and prior to playing Wolfsburg on the Thursday, I made the decision to rest four or five players knowing I had the right to do that with the quality I have at my disposal.

"It meant those players did not play five games in 12 days, when they have been playing five games in 12 days the rest of the time. It's never happened in my life before, I've never had a series of three months where we played every three days for three months."

Hodgson will hope Zamora is fit for the visit of the German champions, having seen him torment two-time European champions Juventus in the round of 16.

Zamora scored Fulham's first in that stunning 4-1 victory at Craven Cottage and with England strikers Jermain Defoe and Wayne Rooney currently battling back from injuries, Fulham midfielder Simon Davies believes his team-mate deserves a chance in Fabio Capello's squad.

"Forwards get rated by the goals they score and he's added that to his game this year and got the attention he deserved all along," Davies said.

"When he pulls his game together he's almost unplayable. If he carries on until the end of the season he's surely got a chance of making the England squad."

Probable teams

Fulham (4-5-1): Schwarzer; Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Duff, Murphy, Etuhu, Davies, Gera; Zamora.

Wolfsburg (4-4-2): Benaglio; Madlung, Riether, Barzagli, Schafer; Pekarik, Misimovic, Gentner, Josue; Grafite, Dzeko.

Fulham manager Roy Hodgson is wary of the threat posed by Europa League opponents Wolfsburg
FULHAM boss Roy Hodgson has no intention of taking Wolfsburg lightly as he attempts to guide his side into yet more unchartered territory.

Fulham's Europa League adventure has already seen them account for UEFA Cup holders Shakhtar Donetsk and Italian giants Juventus.

Wolfsburg may not be as quite as big a name as the Serie A giants but they are the Bundesliga champions and began the season in the Champions League – exiting the tournament after Manchester United beat them 3-1 thanks to Michael Owen's hat-trick.

Hodgson has dismissed suggestions they are any less of a threat to his side's chances of a historic place in the semi-finals.

"I wouldn't say that," he said. "Wolfsburg were in the Champions League, they won the German league last year ahead of Bayern Munich. And Bayern Munich have just beaten Manchester United – so we have no chance.

"What I've learned about Wolfsburg I have only learned since we were drawn against them. But I know they are a good team, they score a lot of goals, they have good attacking players and they are hard-working and well-organised.

"We know the task is a tough one but for me every one of the seven teams we could have played is a good team and a team capable of beating us."

Fulham have lost their last three matches since that epic night at Craven Cottage when Juve were hammered 4-1.

But Hodgson rested five key players in last weekend's defeat at Hull as he prioritised tonight's first leg at Craven Cottage.

"I don't think our performances have been worthy of criticism but there is no doubt that, all the time we were in the cup competitions, they would be somewhat more of a priority than the league because in the league we are relatively safe," he said.

Hammers to make Fulham complaint
West Ham unhappy over KC Stadium line-up
West Ham are to lodge a complaint against Fulham after Roy Hodgson fielded a weakened side in last weekend's defeat to Hull City.

Hodgson rested a number of key stars for the Cottagers against Hull as he prepared for Thursday's Europa League quarter-final tie with Wolfsburg.

The Tigers secured a 2-0 win at the KC Stadium to move level on points with West Ham with a game in hand.

Fulham boss Hodgson has defended his decision to rest players and was unfazed by talk that the club could find itself in trouble with the Premier League over his line-up.

However, West Ham are now planning to make a formal complaint to the Premier League with relations between the two clubs still strained as Fulham are still suing West Ham for "merit money" lost in 2006/07 as a result of the Carlos Tevez affair.

"Roy Hodgson admitted on television that he had rested players because he had an important Europa League match coming up," a West Ham spokesman is quoted as saying in The Sun.

"He admitted fielding a weakened team. From our point of view that's awful and we are going to put in a complaint."

The spokesman added: "Fulham are suing us for £500,000. They may find West Ham suing them for £50million next season."

Tough Matches For English Teams
Fulham manager Roy Hodgson says the Europa League is a far tougher competition to be successful in than a decade ago when he was in charge of Inter Milan.
In 1997 Hodgson guided Inter to the final of what was then the UEFA Cup before they lost on penalties to Schalke.
Tonight he will attempt to lead Fulham a step closer to this season's final. He faces Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg at Craven Cottage for the first leg of their quarter-final.
Hodgson told the media: "These will be our 16th and 17th games in this competition. When I got to the final with Inter, which was a double-headed final, we played 12 games.
"Now we'll have ended up playing 17 even if we go out, so it's half the season
He expects a tough match and will have some fresh players after he rested five players for Saturday's defeat at Hull.
Liverpool play Benfica in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final first leg in Lisbon tonight.
Rafael Benitez has admitted his squad has not been as strong as other clubs.
"It has been a difficult season for young players as well because they have had to perform on the pitch when the team is not doing well."
If Liverpool make it to the semi-final they will play Benitez's former side Valencia or striker Fernando Torres' ex-team-mates from Atletico Madrid.

Europa League a tough slog for Fulham

Fulham manager Roy Hodgson believes the Europa League is a far tougher competition to be successful in than when he was rampaging across Europe with Inter Milan.

In 1997 Hodgson guided Inter to the final of what was then the Uefa Cup before losing on penalties to Schalke.

He is now attempting to lead Fulham a step closer to this season's showpiece when another German outfit, Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg, arrive at Craven Cottage for the first leg of their quarter-final.

It promises to be another memorable chapter in an adventure which began with a trip to Vetra Vilnius of Lithuania back in July and has since taken in, among others, Basle, Roma, Shakhtar Donetsk and Juventus.

"Ten months is a long time to be playing," admitted Hodgson.

"These will be our 16th and 17th games in this competition. When I got to the final with Inter, which was a double-headed final, we played 12 games."

He added: "Now we'll have ended up playing 17 even if we go out, so it's half the season longer.

"That shows what we have achieved, and in reaching that final at Inter we did not encounter anything like the standard of opposition that we have had to meet here."

ROY HODGSON is too long in the tooth to make the mistake of underestimating the opposition, particularly ones who are the current champions of the Bundesliga.

But he insisted that, with a fair wind and a slice of good luck, Fulham can make it to the Europa League final.

Having already beaten the might of Serie A's Juventus in the previous round, and before them last year's winners in Shakhtar Donetsk, his side have already achieved more, so he said, than the Inter team he took to the final in 1996-97 only to lose on penalties to another German side, Schalke.

"We feel a real sense of achievement already at having overcome so many obstacles to get this far," he said as he contemplated tonight's quarter-final first leg at Craven Cottage against Wolfsburg.

"It will require another fantastic effort on the part of the players if we're going to continue this adventure against a team of their quality. But we've earned the right to believe in ourselves and to believe that, if luck continues to favour us, we can go even further."

Hodgson refused to be drawn on reports West Ham were to lodge a complaint over his team rotation in the defeat by Hull on Saturday, saying only that the club had no case to answer. However, he might allow himself a wry smile as he builds the case for the defence.

Tonight's encounter will be the 52nd game of Fulham's season and their 15th in the Europa League – a campaign that started when the nights were still long last July and one that has taken in seven midweek trips already.

"Ten months is a long time to be playing in this competition," he said. "When we reached the final with Inter, we played 12 games back in 1997. That shows what we have achieved here

"In reaching that final with Inter, we didn't confront anything like the standard of opposition we have this season with Fulham."

With each passing round, Fulham's focus has moved more unashamedly to this competition and, for all that Hodgson maintained earlier in the season that the league was the priority, he cautiously acknowledged yesterday that this is now their No1.

"We are entitled to focus more on the Europa League now," he said. "Our performances haven't been worthy of any criticism but we have made a decision that the cup competition will be more of a priority than the league because we're relatively safe.

"When we got to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and the Europa League and we'd reached 38 points in the league, we looked at it and said we could still be OK even if we lost every game in the league and the teams below us got more than they had been getting."

Hodgson knows it would be more than useful to take a lead to Germany next Thursday.

"I'm looking at two fairly tight games with a mistake or a wonder goal deciding the outcome of the tie.

"Wolfsburg are a good team who score a lot of goals. They're a hard-working, organised team as well. Even if they've not had the best season domestically the task ahead for us is a tough one." For all that, Hodgson made all the right noises and will have told his players all about Wolfsburg's travails in the Bundesliga this season.

Despite ending up as champions, their exit from the Champions League – they finished third in Manchester United's group – prompted a collapse to their current position mid-table in ninth.

Wolfsburg's main striker, the highly rated and similarly valued Edin Dzeko, could still be a doubt for tonight's game after picking up a knee injury in training on Monday.

Hodgson was not without his late scares either after striker Bobby Zamora appeared at training suffering from a cold.

Zamora was sent home immediately but Hodgson reported yesterday that he was in the starting XI and that Fulham's medical department were "very confident" he would be OK for the match.

FULHAM (probable): Schwarzer; Baird, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky; Duff, Murphy, Etuhu, Davies; Gera, Zamora.

WOLFSBURG (probable): Benaglio; Pekarik, Madlung, Barzagli, Schafer; Josue; Riether, Misimovic, Gentner; Grafite, Dzeko.

Referee: D Skomina (Slovenia).

Kick-off: 8.05pm. TV: ESPN 7.15pm.

Meet The Ref - Fulham V Latics - Mark Clattenburg
Wigan Athletics Premier League match against Fulham at Craven Cottage on Sunday will be refereed by Mark Clattenburg who started refereeing at the age of 15 as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme.

At 34 he is one of the youngest top flight referees and also one of the best, in my opinion, not afraid to make decisions and not afraid to make his point, he proved this when earlier this season he came out in defence of the under fire Alan Wiley when he was attacked by Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson, Clattenburg quickly responded to the taunts on his colleagues fitness levels with: 'You just try to be in the best position to make a decision and, forget about the politics of Alan`s fitness levels, if you look back at his decision-making in that game it was practically faultless'

'So if we are looking from a refereeing point of view, forget the politics, he called most things right. I could be two metres away and still not see it. I could be 20 metres away and see it. So what`s right and what`s wrong?

'All Premier League football is so fast and I think we will accept that. The laws of the game are different. Even the back-pass law has increased the speed of the game. The multi-ball system in different stadiums has increased it.

'Crowds are more compact, so the ball comes back quicker. As a referee you are wanting to draw breath, but you don`t try to take a natural breather.'

Clattenburg has already refereed the Latics four times this season, the opening day win at Aston Villa, the 2-1 defeat at Hull, our home draw against Blackburn and the draw in the FA Cup 4th round away at Notts County.

Card Watch

Mark Clattenburg has had 35 games so far this season issuing 90 yellow cards and 5 reds

Fulham - Davies Dismisses Claim!
Much has been made about tiredness creeping in after s many games!Many pundits have predicted that it`ll eventually prove to be our undoing, especially as we chase European honours with a tasty fixture against Wolfsburg.

But Simon Davies doesn`t agree and on the eve of the game has remarked,

'It's different, more mentally than physically, when the games come so close together but we're not suffering from that. Everyone's enjoying it and no-one's looking tired."

'There's a lot of respect for Wolfsburg in our dressing room. They score a lot of goals so we definitely haven't underestimated them."

'It's the quarter-finals and we are paying the German champions. There's enough there to get us going.'

Indeed it is, my mouth is watering already!

Fulham - Another Half A Season!
Back in the summer, I was one of those who thought our participation in the Europa League would hamper our season rather than enhance it.
I couldn`t have been further wrong!

Tonight, after memorable wins in the knockout stages over Juventus and Shakhtar, we take on the German champions, Wolfsburg, in a mammoth quarter-final tie.

It`s a tie that Craven Cottage cannot wait for as it represents yet another chance for Fulham Football Club to proudly stamp its name on the newest of European competitions.

Ahead of the clash though, (Sir) Roy Hodgson has taken time out to discuss the Europa League but also comparing it to when he was actively involved in European competition with Milan when he remarks,

"Ten months is a long time to be playing.'

"These will be our 16th and 17th games in this competition. When I got to the final with Inter, which was a double-headed final, we played 12 games."

'Now we'll have ended up playing 17 even if we go out, so it's half the season longer."

'That shows what we have achieved, and in reaching that final at Inter we did not encounter anything like the standard of opposition that we have had to meet here.'

On reflection, have UEFA made the Europa League too long a competition?

Fulham - Roy Explains (Again)!
With West Ham United keen to re-enact that famous Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice and play the part of Shylock, (Sir) Roy Hodgson has once again come out and explained why he rested key players last Saturday.
Speaking ahead of the clash with Wolfsburg tonight, Roy has remarked about the situation,

'We haven't prioritised,'

'But in one particular game after we played Juventus, Manchester City and Tottenham and prior to playing Wolfsburg, I made the decision to rest four or five players knowing full well I had a right to do that with the quality I have at my disposal."

'It meant those players did not play five games in 12 days, when they have been playing five games in 12 days the rest of the time."

'It's never happened in my life before, I've never had a series where we played every three days for three months.'

So there you have it, wind your necks in West Ham, you might understand the problem if you ever reached Europe!


Fulham boss Roy Hodgson is confident Bobby Zamora will be fit for tonight's Europa League clash with Wolfsburg.

Zamora was sent home from training yesterday feeling ill.

Hodgson is confident his 16-goal striker will recover from a cold and be ready to face the reigning German champions.

"He came in today with a cold so we decided not to take any chances with this beautiful spring weather we're experiencing at the moment!" Hodgson said.

"We sent him home in the hope that he'll be fully fit. The medical department are very confident. It was a precaution more than anything else. I'd be very surprised if he doesn't make it, though the risk exists because he didn't train.

"I'm planning for Zamora to play. He's in our starting XI. We'll play our best team tomorrow, so it'd be a great disappointment if he's not able to play."


By Andy Hampson, Press Association Sport

Wigan boss Roberto Martinez claims to have no problem with Fulham's decision to field an understrength team last week.

It has been reported relegation battlers West Ham could complain after Fulham rested a number of players for last week's trip to another struggling side in Hull and lost 2-0.

West Ham are above Hull and the Barclays Premier League relegation zone only on goal difference.

Wigan are only four points better off and could yet be dragged into the scrap but Martinez - perhaps not surprisingly as his team face Europa League quarter-finalists Fulham themselves on Sunday - is not complaining.

Martinez said: "As a manager you always make decisions that can help your team.

"Roy Hodgson and Fulham have had such a successful season - they know exactly what they have got behind the scenes and know what they need.

"For anyone to criticise another football club when they are in such outstanding form is very foolish.

"Roy Hodgson has got to make the decisions to help his team achieve their aims for the season."

Wigan's trip to Craven Cottage this weekend comes between the two legs of Fulham's Europa League last-eight tie against Wolfsburg.

Mark Schwarzer can keep wolves from the door
David Smith

Fulham will find themselves thrown to goal-hungry wolves tonight but Roy Hodgson believes he has just the man to muzzle one of the most effective attacks in European football.

If Fulham's remarkable progress through the Europa League is to result in reaching the semi-finals at the expense of German Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg, much will depend on goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer maintaining the form that has made the veteran Australian his side's unsung hero.

Bobby Zamora, who should play in the quarter-final first leg at Craven Cottage despite being sent home from training yesterday suffering from a cold, has been showered with plaudits for performances that have promoted the striker into late contention for a call into England's World Cup side.

Skipper Danny Murphy, who returns to European action following a two-match ban, has been the midfield inspiration behind another stellar Fulham season that includes reaching the last eight in the FA Cup. And Brede Hangeland has been his usual tower of strength at the heart of the defence.

But the equally commanding Schwarzer, who at 37 years of age has added maturity and experience to reactions that remain lightning fast, is primarily responsible for Fulham remaining unbeaten in seven home games in the European competition.

That record is bound to be tested against a Wolfsburg side that have scored 52 goals in just 28 Bundesliga matches — ominously, Fulham's 33 goals in 31 Premier League fixtures pales by comparison — and netted nine in a failed Champions League group stage campaign which included a brace against Manchester United.

But those statistics won't worry the unflappable Schwarzer who, in a season that has now stretched to 51 competitive games, has been absent from Fulham's line-up on just three occasions. Hodgson admitted his keeper has "done fantastically well".

The Fulham boss has worked wonders with an injury-hit squad that at one stage left him to select from just 14 first-team professionals. Schwarzer, fortunately, has given him little to worry about.

Hodgson said: "With goalkeepers you can get away with it a little bit more. If you look at the records of the players who have played the longest number of consecutive games, quite often goalkeepers are right up there.

"Mark has been fantastically consistent, he's been very good for us. He's a calming influence, just the type of goalkeeper that we need."

Schwarzer revealed he is motivated by the nightmare memory of the 2006 final of the UEFA Cup, now rebranded the Europa League, when his Middlesbrough side were thrashed 4-0 by Sevilla in Eindhoven.

He said: "To have the opportunity to play in another final would be unbelievable. The team are hungry to be successful and it's showed in our performances so far. I'd love to go all the way again."

Much could depend on whether Wolfsburg's star striker Edin Dzeko, scorer of both of those goals against United, has recovered from a knee injury sustained in training.

The Bosnian, who attracted pre-season interest from Chelsea and Arsenal, has formed an effective strike force with Brazilian Grafite. But Hodgson has done his homework and said: "Wolfsburg are much more than a team that have just two good front players.

"They're a team that have an awful lot of good players in all areas and I think those who haven't seen them play are going to be surprised by the quality of their football.

"Like most German teams they're very athletic and they're very technical. And the foreign players they've brought into the club have gelled very well with the German ones."

The received wisdom is that Fulham must take a handy lead to the second leg in Germany next Thursday if they are to meet either Hamburg or Standard Liege for a place in the final. But Hodgson has sought to relieve the pressure on his men tonight.

"Our away record in Europe is not bad," he said. "We got through the group stage by beating Basel who are great at home. We outplayed Roma despite losing 2-1. But that was with nine men because the referee decided to send off two of our players."

Filed under: General — weltmeisterclaude @ 10:45 am

Anyone who's spent any time on Betfair will know that one of the more tempting gambles is the over/under 2.5 goals bet.   And if you've flicked through the various leagues available, you'll have seen that the majority of Bundesliga games tend to involve a lot of scoring.

It's the highest scoring of Europe's 'major leagues' (France is still going the other way:  Auxerre were recently top having scored and conceded fewer than a goal a game).

So when people talk up attacking players in Germany we have to be careful.  If Roy has taught us anything, it's that the team is all important: what players accomplish in these teams is very much a function of that team's way of playing.  And in Germany the trend is towards goalscoring, as sort of Ossie Ardiles style "we'll let you score three because we will back ourselves to score four" type approach, which must be great fun for the fans but frightening to anyone who plays at the back.

Which is a long way of saying that it is probably too simplistic to assume that Wolfsburg are all about their forwards and can't defend.   They, like a lot of German sides, appear to emphasise attacking at the expense of defending.

I was interested to see what happens when German teams play in Europe.  Does this attacking bent impose itself on opponents? It's generalising somewhat, but it'll work for our purposes:

Athletic Bilbao          (0) 0 Werder Bremen            (3) 3
Bayern München           (0) 0 Juventus                 (0) 0
Bayern München           (0) 1 Maccabi Haifa            (0) 0
Besiktas JK (Istanbul)   (0) 0 VfL Wolfsburg            (1) 3
CD Nacional (Funchal)    (0) 2 Werder Bremen            (1) 3
Celtic (Glasgow)         (0) 0 Hamburger SV             (0) 1
CSKA Moskva              (0) 2 VfL Wolfsburg            (1) 1
FK Austria Wien          (0) 2 Werder Bremen            (1) 2
FK Ventspils             (0) 0 Hertha BSC (Berlin)      (1) 1
Girondins de Bordeaux    (2) 2 Bayern München           (1) 1
Hamburger SV             (0) 0 Celtic (Glasgow)         (0) 0
Hamburger SV             (0) 2 SK Rapid Wien            (0) 0
Hamburger SV             (3) 4 Hapoel Tel-Aviv          (1) 2
Hapoel Tel-Aviv          (1) 1 Hamburger SV             (0) 0
Heerenveen               (2) 2 Hertha BSC (Berlin)      (1) 3
Hertha BSC (Berlin)      (0) 0 Heerenveen               (1) 1
Hertha BSC (Berlin)      (0) 1 Sporting CP (Lisboa)     (0) 0
Hertha BSC (Berlin)      (1) 1 FK Ventspils             (0) 1
Juventus                 (1) 1 Bayern München           (1) 4
Maccabi Haifa            (0) 0 Bayern München           (0) 3
Manchester United        (0) 2 VfL Wolfsburg            (0) 1
Rangers (Glasgow)        (0) 0 VfB Stuttgart            (1) 2
Sevilla FC               (1) 1 VfB Stuttgart            (0) 1
SK Rapid Wien            (2) 3 Hamburger SV             (0) 0
Sporting CP (Lisboa)     (1) 1 Hertha BSC (Berlin)      (0) 0
Unirea Urziceni          (0) 1 VfB Stuttgart            (1) 1
VfB Stuttgart            (0) 1 Sevilla FC               (1) 3
VfB Stuttgart            (1) 1 Rangers (Glasgow)        (0) 1
VfB Stuttgart            (3) 3 Unirea Urziceni          (0) 1
VfL Wolfsburg            (0) 0 Besiktas JK (Istanbul)   (0) 0
VfL Wolfsburg            (0) 1 Manchester United        (1) 3
VfL Wolfsburg            (2) 3 CSKA Moskva              (0) 1
Werder Bremen            (2) 3 Athletic Bilbao          (0) 1
Werder Bremen            (2) 4 CD Nacional (Funchal)    (0) 1

I think so.  If two compact teams play against one another you would not expect goals.  But if one opens up then even the most defensive of sides is going to be tempted into these spaces, which in turn leaves spaces for the attacking team to strut its stuff, and before you know it you're in a shoot-out.  I don't know that there are any more goals in that list than would ordinarily be the case, but there are certainly a good sprinkling of 2,3,4 and 5 goal matches in there.

So is this the biggest danger for us?  That Wolfsburg will open up the game, turn it into an end-to-end affair?  I'm not sure.  Even if this happens, we can count on Fulham not getting carried away.   Now we have Duff in the side I do think we have the attacking prowess to make the most of any gaps Wolfsburg might leave, so you'd back us to score.  Will they be able to do the same?

Wolfsburg have been quite inconsistent in Europe this season, beating CSKA Moscow at home, losing to United at home, and drawing with Besiktas.  Away from home they beat Besktas handily, and lost in Moscow and Manchester.

There's no pattern there.   As with most games, there are no magical keys ("Stop Grafite!" – well of course you have to stop Grafite!  As you do any centre-forward you come up against), it'll come down to which playing style can impose itself on the other, which team can come up with a magic moment, which can avoid mistakes.  Like any game really.

Betfair, 1 Apr 2010

Tobias Gourlay previews a Europa League quarter final between two teams who have never reached this level of European competition before.

Fulham move further into unchartered territory on Thursday evening as they contest a first-ever European quarter final, but their opponents, the reigning German champions, are similarly inexperienced and come up against a fine W10-D4-L0 European home record (W6-D1-L0 this season), which includes, of course, a splendid 4-1 win over Juventus a fortnight ago. The Londoners, moreover, are comfortably mid-table in the Premier League and coach Roy Hodgson has said he is now prioritising the Europa League.

After a run of injuries, Fulham are getting close to full strength again. Andy Johnson and John Paintsil are still out with long-term knee problems, but Hodgson has been protecting Bobby Zamora, who has a stomach bug, from the unseasonably weather and is hopeful he will be available for this match to take a place alongside the Cottagers' leading scorer in the competition, Zoltan Gera.
2.34 is a good price for another Fulham home win, but Wolfsburg, who are currently only ninth in the Bundesliga with its second-worst defence, scored in all three of their group-stage away matches in the Champions League and in 2/2 on the road in the Europa League so far. In all competitions, only two of Wolfsburg's 21 previous hosts have kept them out completely. By kick-off, Both Teams to Score, which has happened in 8/10 of Fulham's games in the Europa League proper this season and 4/4 in the knockout stages, should be available at 1.9 or so. Over 2.5 Goals is a 2.06 shot.

Put the two suggestions - Fulham to win, Wolfsburg to score - together and you get an idea about a Correct Score: 2-1 is available at 9.8; 3-1 is [22]. One small note of caution about all of this though: after several months away, Wolfsburg's first-choice goalkeeper, Diego Benaglio, returned to action at the weekend and they kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 win at Mainz.

Die Wolfe's top-scorer in Europe is Grafite, who has six Champions League and Europa League goals this season. His Bosnian strike partner, Edin Dzeko, who has five, scored at Old Trafford earlier this season and has found the back of the net in all three European games he's played against English opposition, but the most recent German press reports reveal he hasn't trained since Monday and faces a late fitness test. If he plays, six goals in his last four Bundesliga games suggest he might be the best bet to score in this match.

Recommended Bets: Back Fulham at 2.32 to win; back Both Teams to Score at 1.9