Italian giants Juventus avoided the embarrassment of being eliminated from European competition on two counts with a professional two-legged victory over Dutch side Ajax in the round of 32 in the Europa League. Further progress would go some way to banishing the disappointment of being dumped out of the Champions League at the group stage – a contributing factor to the demise of former manager Ciro Ferrara.
His replacement, Alberto Zaccheroni, has gone some way to resurrecting the Old Lady’s season and a fourth place finish is within reach, despite a loss at Palermo, who currently occupy the position. The Bianconeri secured a 2-1 victory against Fiorentina on Saturday too, and will be hopeful of carrying the momentum into Thursday night’s clash.
Zaccheroni knows not to take Roy Hodgson’s Fulham for granted. The two have locked horns a handful of times in the past due to Hodgson’s experience in charge of both Inter and Udinese, with the Italian acknowledging the Cottagers boss’s simple yet effective approach. That Fulham have also eliminated the reigning UEFA Cup champions Shakhtar Donetsk should also serve as warning enough.
Fulham are enjoying another fine season, sitting in the top ten of the Premier League and with the opportunity of reaching Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup semi-final still very much alive after a goalless draw with Tottenham Hotspur. The Europa League run is the south west Londoner’s icing on the cake, but fans will hope the adventure doesn’t end just yet.
Fiorentina 1-2 Juventus (Serie A)
Juventus 0-2 Palermo (Serie A)
Juventus 0-0 Ajax (Europa League)
Bologna 1-2 Juventus (Serie A)
Ajax 1-2 Juventus (Europa League)
Fulham 0-0 Tottenham (FA Cup)
Sunderland 0-0 Fulham (Prem)
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-1 Fulham (Europa League)
Fulham 2-1 Birmingham (Prem)
Fulham 2-1 Shakhtar Donetsk (Europa League)
Veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is unavailable after picking up a thigh strain towards the end of February; Fulham fans may be familiar with his likely replacement, former Arsenal shot-stopper Alex Manninger. Giorgio Chiellini will also miss the clash with a thigh problem and Amauri is out, but there is better news regarding defender Paolo De Ceglie, who declared himself fully fit despite hobbling out of Saturday’s 2-1 win over Fiorentina at half time. Former Viola midfielder Felipe Melo is suspended.
Last Starting XI (vs Fiorentina): Manninger; Zebina, Legrottaglie, Chiellini, De Ceglie; Marchisio, Melo, Sissoko, Candreva; Diego; Trezeguet.
Hodgson is without long-term absentees Andrew Johnson, Clint Dempsey, John Pantsil and Kagisho Dikgacoi, while on-loan defender Nicky Shorey is cup-tied following appearances with Aston Villa earlier in the competition; Stephen Kelly is likely to step in, but Paul Konchesky may be in contention. Midfielder and pivotal figure Danny Murphy is suspended following his uncharacteristic red card in stoppage time against Shakhtar Donetsk.
Last Starting XI: (vs Tottenham): Schwarzer; Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Shorey; Duff, Greening, Etuhu, Davies; Gera; Zamora.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Big money was spent on the summer acquisition of Brazilian playmaker Diego, and despite showing flashes of his true class, the former Werder Bremen man has failed to fully deliver. With a goal against Fiorentina fresh in the memory though, Diego could be ready to end this tie before it reaches Craven Cottage.
In the absence of a recognised second striker, Zoltan Gera has deputised in a supporting role behind Bobby Zamora and excelled in Europe. His early strike set the wheels in motion for Fulham’s victory over Shakhtar and with Danny Murphy suspended, the Hungarian’s contribution is more important now than ever.
Fulham will have to work hard to score a crucial away goal at the Stadio Olimpico, asJuventus’ shutout against Ajax shows, but Hodgson will have his side thoroughly drilled for the encounter. A Juve victory by the odd goal could set up a tense meeting at Craven Cottage.
Juventus 1-0 Fulham