Given that Fulham have a comfortable three-goal lead from the first leg, it would have been very easy to Martin Jol to ring the changes, blood a few youngsters and sit on the aggregate advantage. He might have been contemplating something like that prior to Sunday’s trip to Molineux. After Fulham’s meek capitulation to Wolves, however, there will be a desire to produce a performance and a result that will lift confident levels ahead of another tricky trip to Newcastle.
The Fulham manager has been fairly vocal in setting targets for his side ahead of this game. Jol wants his side to be adventurous, so has seemingly eschewed the defensive approach against a Ukrainian side, who looked technically gifted at Craven Cottage last week and possess a strong home record. Juande Ramos hasn’t given up on presiding over a second leg revival to rival Fulham’s comeback against Juventus a couple of years ago and Jol’s successor at Tottenham is certainly under pressure at Dnipro. In their attempt to overhaul the likes of Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev, Dnipro have spent around £30m on new arrivals during the last two transfer windows. Though he denies that he fears for his job, Ramos has endured a difficult start to the domestic campaign. After a disappointing goalless draw at Vorskla on Sunday, Dnipro are now ninth in the table, having only mustered two wins from their seven fixtures so far.
Ramos has insisted that his side will go in search of an early goal that would enliven a tie that looks beyond them. Having said that, the Ukrainians certainly did look dangerous in the closing quarter of the first leg – and will probably shift to some more attacking tactics, perhaps jettisoning Derek Boateng, who played as a holding midfielder at the Cottage. Jol has recognised that this may give Fulham an opportunity on the break to score an away goal that would seal a place in Friday’s draw for the group stages. The Whites has been in free-scoring European form, having notched 15 games in their seven games so far.
Jol’s team selection, with that trip to St. James’ Park, on the horizon will be interesting. With the new manager still looking for their first league win, there must be a temptation to rest a few key players with the tie so firmly in Fulham’s control. Chris Baird has travelled with the squad for this trip although if Stephen Kelly is again preferred at right-back, it could be another sign that Baird’s Fulham career could be coming to a close. You would expect Matthew Briggs, called up to Stuart Pearce’s England under-21 squad yesterday after some impressive early-season outings, to get another run in place of John Arne Riise on the other side of the defence. Briggs seems to have inherited some of Riise’s adventure and his mazy dribble into the Dnipro box set up Aaron Hughes for the opening goal last week.
Steve Sidwell could replace Dickson Etuhu in central midfield, whilst Pajtim Kasami might be line for another outing out wide. The young Swiss midfielder impressed in an advanced role in the first leg, delivering a lovely cross for Clint Dempsey’s fine second-half header, but struggled to impose himself on Wolves at the weekend and was substituted at half-time. I’d like to see something of Marcel Gecov, the Czech midfielder who was so impressive during the summer’s under-21 European Championships but has so far had to watch from the bench at his new club, although Jol might be worried about fielding such an inexperienced midfield.
One change will be enforced. Bobby Zamora’s ankle knocked that forced him out of the Wolves game has ruled him out of the second leg and the England striker, so integral to Fulham’s game plan over the past two years or so, is now battling to be fit for Newcastle on Sunday. Moussa Dembele looked lively in his second-half showing and should get a start tonight up front.
MY FULHAM XI (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Baird, Briggs, Hughes, Hangeland; Sidwell, Murphy, Duff, Kasami; Dempsey; Dembele. Subs: Etheridge, Kelly, Senderos, Gecov, Etuhu, Frei, Johnson.