Europa League Preview: Fulham - VfL Wolfsburg

Modest Londoners aim to keep European dream alive against reigning German champions
Kickoff: Thursday, April 1, 20:05 BST
Craven Cottage, Fulham, London

After suffering a 3-1 defeat against Juventus in Turin and then going a goal down after just two minutes in the return leg at Craven Cottage, Fulham looked dead, buried and well and truly eliminated from the Europa League. Four goals later though, the last of which was a delightful chip from Clint Dempsey, and Roy Hodgson’s men were celebrating a miraculous quarter final place.

That victory on a cold Thursday night is the only one in Fulham’s last five games in all competitions however – the latest defeat coming at the hands of relegation strugglers Hull City. Hodgson afforded some of his key players a much-needed rest over the weekend though, with the Europa League now the priority.

While Fulham have arguably exceeded expectations by reaching the last eight, Wolfsburg find themselves in the competition in more unceremonious circumstances. The reigning Bundesliga champions exited the Champions League at the group stage (in which they lost twice to Manchester United) and scraped past fellow dropouts Rubin Kazan with a dramatic late goal in extra time.

The Wolves have also struggled to replicate last season’s league form and are currently sitting in mid-table. A 2-0 victory over Mainz has given them some momentum travelling to London though, with the Europa League now representing their best opportunity of success this year. Wolfsburg will be happy to have drawn Fulham; they must now capitalise on meeting what the German club would perceive to be the weakest side remaining in the competition.

FORM GUIDE

Fulham


Hull 2-0 Fulham (Premier League)
Tottenham 3-1 Fulham (FA Cup)
Fulham 1-2 Man City (Premier League)
Fulham 4-1 Juventus (Europa League)
Man Utd 3-0 Fulham (Premier League)

Wolfsburg

FSV Mainz 0-2 Wolfsburg (Bundesliga)
Wolfsburg 1-5 Hertha Berlin (Bundesliga)
Wolfsburg 2-1 Rubin Kazan AET (Europa League)
Borussia M’gladbach 0-4 Wolfsburg (Bundesliga)
Rubin Kazan 1-1 Wolfsburg (Europa League)

TEAM NEWS

Fulham


Strikers Bobby Zamora and David Elm look likely to recover from a bug that has affected the Fulham camp over the past week and saw both miss Saturday’s defeat to Hull.

Andrew Johnson and John Paintsil remain the only long-term absentees for Hodgson, though Paintsil could return in the coming weeks.

Nicky Shorey and Stefano Okaka Chuka are both cup-tied after featuring in the competition for Aston Villa and Roma respectively.

Possible Starting XI: Schwarzer; Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Konchesky; Duff, Murphy, Etuhu, Dempsey; Gera, Zamora.

Wolfsburg

The Wolves are sweating on the fitness of Edin Dzeko; the talisman did not train on Tuesday after picking up a knee problem.

Like Fulham, Wolfsburg have also had players laid up in bed through illness, as Marwin Hitz, Grafite and Makoto Hasebe all missed training this week, but are expected to be fit to feature on Thursday.

Possible Starting XI: Benaglio; Pekarik, Barzagli, Madlung, Schafer; Josue, Riether, Gentner, Misimovic; Grafite, Dzeko.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Fulham


After being rested at the weekend, Danny Murphy should be back in the Fulham starting XI and ready to try to dictate the pace of this historic European night at Craven Cottage. The Whites managed to negotiate a difficult tie with Juventus without Murphy - the former Liverpool man was sent off for a petulant swing of his boot late on against Shakhtar Donetsk in the last 32 - but make no mistake, the return of the experienced midfielder is a most welcome one.

Wolfsburg

In the possible absence of Edin Dzeko, the onus falls on Brazilian striker Grafite to provide the goals to fire Wolfsburg into the last four. The 31-year-old top-scored in the Wolves’ Bundesliga-winning campaign last year with 28 goals, has a Champions League hat-trick against CSKA Moscow to his name this season and, after earning a call-up to his national side last month, will be harbouring ambitions of a World Cup call-up.

PREDICTION

Fulham’s home form proved to be crucial in the last 16 as they somehow found the four goals needed to overturn Juventus and it will be vital to the Whites to take an advantage to Germany. Without Edin Dzeko, Wolfsburg are certainly weakened but still pose a threat. Fulham may edge the home leg, but will be far from putting the tie to bed.

Fulham 2-1 VfL Wolfsburg