Europa League finalists ready for London derby…
Kick-Off: Sunday, May 2. 15:00GMT
Craven Cottage, London.
Craven Cottage, London.
Fulham will be looking to cap a fantastic week by getting the better of London rivals West Ham United at Craven Cottage on Sunday.
After their dramatic win against Hamburg on Thursday, Roy Hodgson’s Cottagers sealed their place in the Europa League final against Atletico Madrid.
That is a magnificent achievement when you consider the Cottagers were considered to be as good as relegated eighteen months ago, before a late rally saw them survive and go on to finish seventh in the 2008/09 season.
With a mid-table Premier League finish safe this season, Fulham can go into their final matches ahead of the showpiece clash against Diego Forlan et al free of any pressure.
West Ham, unlike Fulham, have had a turbulent season both on and off the pitch. Last weekend’s 3-2 victory over Wigan Athletic finally secured survival, but it remains to be seen whether Gianfranco Zola will be there to enjoy another season in the top flight.
Zola has admitted he is not being consulted over the club’s transfer dealings, with the Italian revealing he found out about the £4 million bid for West Bromwich Albion midfielder Graham Dorrans in the morning papers.
Club owners David Sullivan and David Gold have declared that the whole squad apart from Scott Parker is available for transfer as they look to ease the club’s debt problems in yet another incident to rile Zola, who felt the likes of Robert Green, Matthew Upson and Valon Behrami have been treated unfairly.
However, the Hammers have been playing with off-field problems hanging over them all season, and will need to continue putting them to one side if they want to finish higher than their current position in 17th.
Apr 29: Fulham 2-1 Hamburg (Europa League)
Apr 25: Everton 2-1 Fulham (Premier League)
Apr 22: Hamburg 0-0 Fulham (Europa League)
Apr 17: Fulham 0-0 Wolves (Premier League)
Apr 11: Liverpool 0-0 Fulham (Premier League)
Apr 24: West Ham 3-2 Wigan Athletic (Premier League)
Apr 19: Liverpool 3-0 West Ham (Premier League)
Apr 10: West Ham 1-0 Sunderland (Premier League)
Apr 04: Everton 2-2 West Ham (Premier League)
Mar 27: West Ham 0-1 Stoke City (Premier League)
Bobby Zamora is likely to be given an opportunity to rest his Achilles injury after receiving an injection to play in the Europa League semi-final against Hamburg.
The Cottagers are expected to make a few changes to freshen up the side, with the likes of Stefano Okaka, Nicky Shorey and Chris Baird hoping to feature from the start.
Possible starting XI (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Shorey, Dempsey, Baird, Etuhu, Duff, Gera, Okaka.
West Ham are set to welcome defender James Tomkins back from injury, while ex-Fulham midfielder Luis Boa Morte could make the substitutes' bench on his return.
The likes of Jack Collison and Kieron Dyer will not feature again this season.
Possible starting XI (4-4-2): Green, Faubert, Tomkins, Upson, Spector, Behrami, Parker, Kovac, Diamanti, Ilan, Cole.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Fulham – Stefano Okaka
Stefano Okaka has only had the opportunity to start two games since signing for Fulham on loan from Serie A big-hitters Roma at the end of the January transfer window. The young striker has already scored twice for his new side, though, and will be determined to find the net again if he gets enough minutes to impress on Sunday.
West Ham – Scott Parker
According to the club’s owners West Ham captain Scott Parker is the only player who is not available for transfer this summer, highlighting his importance to the side. The former Chelsea midfield has had an excellent season for the Hammers, and his crucial late strike against Wigan last weekend effectively sealed survival.
Fulham have had an impressive season and will want to cap a glorious week with a victory in this London derby ahead of their European final.
West Ham are finally sure of safety and will now want to end the season on a high despite the uncertainties at boardroom and managerial level.
With a few changes likely to be made by the home side, it is a tricky contest to predict. A draw is certainly not out of the question.
Fulham 1–1 West Ham United