There will be a European backdrop to Fulham’s Premier League visit to Liverpool today, as both sides are just one round away from facing each other in the Europa League final.
Liverpool’s quarter-final win over Benfica on Thursday and Fulham’s victory over German champions Wolfsburg mean there is a strong possibility that respective managers Rafael Benitez and Roy Hodgson will face each other in the Hamburg final on May 12.
However, before that date, both sides have to conclude their domestic campaigns with the majority of the spotlight falling on Liverpool and their chances of qualifying for the Champions League.
It has been a trying year for Liverpool because of poor form and injuries, while the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham are in marginally better positions to compete for the final qualifying spot, but Benitez has not given up his hopes of combining Europa League glory with Champions League qualification and is still backing his side to do it.
They also have the added incentive today that another home victory would make it nine consecutive Premier League victories at Anfield, which would be a new club record.
“It was a very good performance against Benfica, but now we must look to win every game left this season,” Benitez said. “If we can get to the Europa League final we will be really pleased but we also want to stay close to the top four. We have to target both.”
“We have two targets now. We will try to win every game, starting by trying to beat Fulham on Sunday. Hopefully now we can see Fulham in the final as well because it would be good to have two English teams there,” he said.
The Cottagers have a poor record at Anfield, where they have never won — a statistic that extends to 28 matches and goes back to their first meeting in 1934. Back in October, Fulham beat Liverpool 3-1 at Craven Cottage and will travel to Merseyside hoping to achieve their first-ever double over Benitez’s men.
Striker Bobby Zamora scored in that victory, one of the 19 goals he has netted so far this season, and that impressive tally has provoked interest from clubs across Europe. He has also been tipped for inclusion in England’s World Cup squad.
However, teammate and former Liverpool player Danny Murphy said that if Hodgson is to keep on developing Fulham as a team and as a club, then it is integral to keep hold of their top-scorer.
“He has been our best player by far this season. He’s causing big problems for so-called top-class defenders week in week out,” the Fulham captain said.
“The only worry for us now is whether we will be able to keep hold of him but let’s hope that we can. I’d be surprised if there aren’t clubs coming in for him this summer,” he said. “There are financial restrictions at every club. Fulham can’t compete with a club like Man City, obviously, so you have to be realistic but Bobby is an important part of the team and I think it is important that we keep all our best players at the club.”
Hodgson looks set to be without the services of Simon Davies (rib) and David Elm (illness), while Zamora may also be a slight doubt with an Achilles twinge.
For the home side, Benitez has no new injury concerns following Thursday’s victory and has Emiliano Insua back from injury while Maxi Rodriguez is eligible to play again after UEFA rules meant he could not feature against Benfica.
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