Fulham v Shakhtar Donetsk Preview!
Our Europa League campaign continues this Thursday with a tie against Shakhtar Donetsk, it`s a fixture that could prove to be, by far, our most difficult in Europe this season.
Shakhtar are the reigning UEFA Cup holders and will be keen to grace the latter stages of the competition this year, besides, if our squad can pull off a remarkable win, over two legs, then the prospect of facing the winners of Ajax v Juventus, next round, looks just as formidable.
With Fulham going so well on the domestic front, namely surging away from any possible dalliance with relegation and progressing to the FA Cup quarter-finals, our participation in the Europa League has tended to slip off the radar. In fact, I`d say it`s the lowest of our priorities now! I`m eve at a loss to recall exactly what suspensions we have outstanding after that somewhat comical encounter with AS Roma in Rome.
What we do know though is that Stefano Okaka, after playing for AS Roma against us; is illegible and Roy Hodgson will be without long term injury victims John Pantsil, Andrew Johnson and Clint Dempsey. Rumours persist that Paul Konchesky and Zoltan Gera are approaching the rehabilitation stage whereby they may well be considered for squad selection. One man definitely looking forward to taking part though will be Simon Davies who has finally seen his season get underway after some awkward injury problems.
With an important Premier League game coming up against Birmingham City this Sunday, it`s difficult to predict the starting eleven that Roy Hodgson will go for, will he include some fringe players like Bjorn Helge Riise, the United bound Chris Smalling, Jonathan Greening and Erik Nevland or will the big guns be rolled out knowing a home defeat would leave us with a nothing tie in the second leg. Sticking our heads above the proverbial parapet and purely to see just how right or wrong we are, we`re going for the following starting eleven:-
Schwarzer, Baird, Hangeland, Hughes, Kelly, Duff, Murphy, Greening, Gera, Zamora, Elm
As for a result, let`s just say that I`ll be happy if we can keep the second leg meaningful! It`ll be a waste of everybody`s time to traipse all that way for a meaningless second leg, would it not?