So far this season every home leg of Fulham’s Europa League adventure has been labelled as the most important and historic night in the club’s history. Quite right too, they have failed to disappoint in the knockout rounds of the Europa League by knocking out some mighty names.
On Thursday evening Roy Hodgson will march his men into battle against a Hamburg side who have only made a few decent appearances in the Europa League this season. Conceding 3 or more goals in half of their away games since the start of the competition proper. They lie 7th in the Bundesliga with little hope of securing a place in Europe once more next season.
Following a humiliating 5-1 defeat to Hoffenheim on Sunday the Hamburg board decided to relieve Bruno Labbadia of his responsibilities. Labbadia has not had much luck since making the step up to the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen and now Hamburg, it isn’t clear what his next step will be. In the interim Ricardo Moniz will be taking charge of the side until the end of the season.
Such instability on the eve of such an important game would appear to hand the tie, gift wrapped, to Fulham. My only concern for the cottagers would be that new manager syndrome does not kick in.
Although Moniz is hardly a new face at the club, he was appointed as assistant to Martin Jol almost two years ago and remained even after Jol left for Ajax. He will know the players very well and may be looking to acquire the position on a permanent basis. If he can inspire some vague semblance of confidence, one goal could be enough to put Hamburg into the final at their home ground.
Fulham also came away from their game on Sunday with a defeat. Albeit a far from humiliating 2-1 defeat away to a strong Everton side who needed a stoppage time winner from Tim Cahill. Hodgson rested a number of his key players with Thursday night in mind and the fans will have faith that he will know exactly how to prepare the players for such an occasion.