Since the middle of August the rundown of away matches Fulham has had to play after midweek Europa League ties are as follows: Wigan, Manchester City, West Ham, Wolves and Aston Villa. Four of those matches are not even close to southwest London. To ask a team to travel to the Midlands and then up to Wigan following tough European matches is not the ideal way to help a team to succeed in either of these competitions.
Why would the Premier League schedule makers do this? Why was Fulham's Europa League inclusions not taken into consideration when the schedule came out back in June? Was it a belief among the schedule makers that the Cottagers were not going to get out of the qualifying rounds? It is hard not to think something was up in trying to make Fulham travel so much when returning from their European adventure.
The final two matches in the Europa League will see Fulham playing at home in the Premier League the ensuing weekend. It's a little long overdue, but it will be nice to see the Cottagers not having to make another trip to northern England for a Sunday afternoon match.
Fortunately and in spite of the schedule makers, Fulham has done relatively well in both competitions. They sit 11th in the Premier League table and 3rd in their Europa League group with two matches remaining.
While things are looking up for Fulham in the Premier League, a tough tale of two matches against Roma in the Europa League leaves the Cottagers with work to do in order to qualify for the knockout round. Despite leading Roma 1-0 in both the home and away ties, Fulham was only able to draw at home and they lost in Rome this past Thursday. The Cottagers will play host to CSKA Sofia in early December before traveling to Basel to take on FC Basel in the final match of group play. Both of these matches are must wins for Fulham. The CSKA Sofia match is one the Whites should win. However, the trip to Basel will not be easy and that is the match that will determine whether this team advances or gets eliminated.
As a fan, the Europa League has been a fun adventure for the club. It is always nice seeing new teams and different styles of play than the ones we see each week in the Premier League. Trips to Russia, Bulgaria and Italy among others have been good for the club to gain exposure and build the Fulham name throughout Europe. The further the team advances, the better the chance to club continues to get positive recognition which can only be a good thing moving forward for the club.
A few other observations from recent matches:
Jonathan Greening was not at his best on Sunday against Wigan. He gave the ball away too much and too easily and seemed off the pace while he was on the pitch. I am not sure if it was a matter of him just being tired, but it is something to keep an eye on over the next few weeks. Greening has some skills, but he will need to be much better technically if he is going to make up for his lack of speed and quickness that he possesses.
Mark Schwarzer was fantastic on Sunday against Wigan. He made a number of acrobatic saves at the DW Stadium against the Latics that really kept the Cottagers in the match. Truth be told, Wigan has a nice team and I like what Roberto Martinez is doing up there. Hugo Rodallega is quick, strong and can play. He will be a menace for Premier League teams all season long.
Damien Duff seems to be reverting back to his Newcastle days over the past few weeks. I know he has been injured and missed some time, but if he can't go 100%, he should not be on the pitch. Without his pace, he does not have the technical skills needed to make a difference on the pitch. After a good start in a Fulham kit, he has fallen off significantly of late and I hope that changes soon as this club needs him to play well in order to succeed.
That is all for this week. With the International break this coming weekend I hope it gives players like Andy Johnson and the aforementioned Damien Duff the time they need to recover from injuries and play themselves back into shape on the training pitch before the Cottagers trip to St. Andrews to take on Birmingham City on November 21st.
What kinds of observations have you made about this team over the last week or two? Do you think Fulham can continue to slowly move up the Premier League table and finish in the top ten again this season? Will Fulham qualify for the knockout round of the Europa League?
I would love to read your thoughts on these topics or anything Fulham related that you would like to share here.