Hot on the heels of Fulham’s fantastic success in Wolfsburg comes a trip to Liverpool. Our league progreamme certainly has that end-of-season feel to it now, what with the Whites well clear of the relegation dogfight and probably too far behind the chasing pack to get close to matching last season’s seventh place. There’s no doubt that our eagerly-anticipated Europa League semi-final with Hamburg in a couple of weeks is Fulham’s focus now and we’d be well advised to expect that to be reflected in Roy Hodgson’s team selection tomorrow.
The Fulham manager attracted a ludicrous complaint from West Ham (perhaps designed to deflect advantage from the worryingly thin nature of their own recent performances) for juggling his resources for a recent game at Hull. He’s indicated that, with several key players feeling the effects of three games in eight days and a bruising second leg in Germany on Thursday, he may well do the same at Anfield.
Chief in line for a rest are the midweek’s walking wounded. Brede Hangeland came off the field at the Volkswagen Arena with a rather pronounced limp which makes his late back-heeled clearance off the line all the more impressive. Simon Davies took a clout in the ribs from Josue midway through the second half and was doubled up in pain on the touchline as a resut, while you wouldn’t expect Bobby Zamora to risk a second game in quick succession when he’s just been troubled by an Achilles injury.
All of which makes whether to make any further changes something of an interesting dilemma for Hodgson. In theory he could also replace Paul Konchesky with Nicky Shorey as the on-loan left back is bound to be fresh having been cup-tied for our European excursions. Stephen Kelly could step in for Chris Baird, who was excellent at right back, if the latter needs a break. Jonathan Greening, Kagisho Dikagcoi and Bjorn Helge Riise would be in the manager’s thoughts to freshen up the midfield area. Damien Duff would be the obvious man to be excluded from the matchday squad after playing a full part in Fulham’s hectic schedule recently. You sense that Hodgson might need a stable full of wild horses to convince Danny Murphy, who made 249 appearances in seven years at Liverpool, that he shouldn’t captain the side on his return to Anfield.
Up front will be an interesting one as well. David Elm might not be risked as he’s still being troubled by a virus – Hodgson admitted he shouldn’t have started with him against Wigan last weekend. That leaves Stefano Okaka and Erik Nevland in direct competition assuming that Roy doesn’t tweak his system to play the pair together. Would Zoltan Gera deserve a breather after all his tireless work behind Zamora of late? Or would so many changes hand Liverpool the three points they crave to get back into the race for fourth place.
Rafa Benitez isn’t without his own selection posers for tomorrow’s fixture. He should be able to call upon Fernandes Torres again, despite taking the Spaniard off with the job done against Benfica on Thursday. Ryan Babel could return to the line-up now the Dutch forward is free from suspension and just how he deploys Steven Gerrard will be crucial. Will Lucas Leiva be let off the leash or left on the bench this week? With defensive cover at a premium, Dan Agger might be forced to play out of position at left back again.
A word of warning. As well as taking into account the obvious quality at Benitez’s disposal (think of the destruction Mascherano, Benayoun, Maxi and Riera could cause if they aren’t effectively shackled, for example), Fulham have a truly wretched record at Anfield. The Whites haven’t won in 28 visits to Liverpool and, since the Whites have been back in the top flight, our only ‘moral victories’ have been three scoreless draws. If the fringe players don’t step up tomorrow, it has to be potential to be another long trip home.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Shorey, Hughes, Smalling; Greening, Murphy, Riise, Duff; Gera; Okaka. Subs: Zuberbuhler, Stoor, Briggs, Etuhu, Dikgacoi, Nevland, Elm.