One facet of the Fulham Review we had hoped to do was a sort of round table between a few friends and commentariat. But it got cut from the print edition for a myriad of reasons, namely my inability to edit it in a timely fashion.
Well, I finally got around to editing a few of the questions, and mainly axed conjectures about who the manager would be and whether or not Dio or Gera would still be around. (My apologies to any of the panel members that think I deleted too much.)
Anywho, I’ll be posting these questions at random intervals in the lead up to the League starting next
Sunday Saturday (yikes!).
Although this wasn’t the first question in the discussion, it could be the most dated by this time tomorrow. So feel free read the discussion and post your own opinions after the jump.
What do you expect from Fulham in Europe this year? At what stage would you be pleased to see us advance to?
Rob: I hope I’m wrong but I think this year’s European adventure will be swift – and a huge anti-climax. I can see us getting knocked out in the early qualifiers but would be delighted to reach the knock out stages. Considering how well we did two years ago there will be a natural expectation for us to progress and beat the long established European names but I don’t think our squad is deep enough. We would need to add at least another striker – and have the kind of injury free run that helped us in the early stages of the competition last time around – to stand any chance of progressing. The fitness of Bobby and Dembele will be absolutely crucial. In that regard the fact that they have both spent a lot of time in the physio’s room over the last six months may be beneficial.
Rich: I agree with Rob. Under Hodgson we had a lovely knack of playing well against notionally better teams. It was a trick we repeated over and over, playing well at home, playing well enough away. Results were ground out and we left an impressive trail of destruction behind us, all the way to the final where the season’s efforts finally seemed to catch up with the players.
Under Hughes we didn’t beat anyone from the top part of the table all season. We were probably better to watch, but Hodgson’s cold blooded adherence to his principles meant that every team had to really earn anything they got from us, which was frequently nothing. Under Hughes we seemed to be a bit more hit or miss, steamrollering lesser sides but losing to better ones. We’ll go out to the first good team we play.
Jamie: I wouldn’t disagree, but depending on that we mean by ‘good’ team, that could still mean us progressing quite far. Under Hodgson we nearly lost to Amkar Perm because we were so negative away from home; with the changed style Rich describes I’d expect us to beat teams of that ilk a lot more comfortably that time around. Not that Amkar were terrible – but we were better than them and it needn’t have been so tight.
Looking at our seeding we’ll be helped by playing one of the ‘bottom half’ or teams in every round up until the groups – and even then we’re likely to be seeded second out of four which gives us an advantage over last year. My (I think reasonable) hope is that we’ll be in the competition until Christmas at least.
Dave: I think this Euro campaign is going to be tougher. There really isn’t much time to recover from last season and get organized for the new before we start playing games. I think a lot will depend on how quickly we appoint a new manager and how many squad changes he attempts to make.
I think we may get caught cold in one of the qualifying games. It would be nice to get through these with a mixture of youth and fringe players, but as Rich points out, I doubt our depth is good enough to manage that.
I’d be over the moon if we made the group stages. That would guarantee us 6 games of interesting mid-week games and possibly at least one doozy of a tie.
Tim: Personally I think this club can make it to the group stages, and I would be pleased to see us advance there. As you say Jamie, we are seeded this year which can really make a big difference when the CL dropouts join the Europa ranks. Yet, look at how stacked the Playoff Round is. Sevilla, Roma, Lazio, Schalke, Braga, Sporting, and even Celtic start off at that round, and there’s also the potential of facing Benfica, Twente, and even Rangers. If we somehow manage to face those, hopefully those clubs will decide a long Europa campaign isn’t worth it. Fingers crossed…
Jamie: But those clubs will all be in the top half of the draw, with us… we won’t be playing any of them.
Tim: Are we still seeded at that point in the competition though? I think hypothetically yes, but we could also not…
Jamie: There are 76 teams involved in the playoff round, so the top 38 are seeded. We are currently 51st-highest ranked team in all of Europe – so for us to be unseeded in the playoffs, 38 out of those 50 clubs above us would need to be involved. Highly unlikely I’d say, if not already impossible – most will be in the Champions League, some might have been knocked out of Europe, perhaps the odd one not qualified this year at all.
Don: Which means we’d avoid all the big guns in qualifying but would likely face at least one bigger gun should we reach the group stage. I think?
We must realize that the price of having a once-in-a-lifetime experience is that it’s not going to happen every time we qualify. Two seasons ago, my wish was that we’d survive until the group stages. This coming season, I’m pretty much in the same place.
Having said that, the biggest Europa League success for me was NOT reaching the final — although that was brilliant — it was the emergence of Chris Smalling and Chris Baird. I’m hoping that this DOES repeat itself, that some of our fine young players can come to the forefront in the qualifying stages and can move on to strengthen the squad. If we can get one fringe player to make himself indispensable — like Baird — and one young player to make himself a critical part of the mix — like Smalling — then the experience will be well worth it. But, no, I don’t expect us to overcome an apparently insurmountable lead from Juve again, but I’m going to be hoping like crazy that it does.
Nick: I think we have a good chance of making the Round of 32, then it’s in the lap of the Gods. If we do get that far, then chuck it because of pressure of league fixtures or injuries I shall be very disappointed. In 09/10 the Europa matches helped our league form and as Don has pointed out, helped fringe players prove that they are good enough to be trusted members of the squad.
Colin: Despite the extra qualifying rounds, I actually feel a little better about our chances this time around. A decent Premier League team should be able to make the group stages in this competition, and more often than not, they do. Our team is stronger from top to bottom now. The load early on shouldn’t be much different than a typical slate of pre-season friendlies – my concern is finding enough minutes for the established players in preparation for the Premier League. On the other hand, meaningful minutes early on for younger players might prove to be more beneficial long-term.
So…group stage, finishing second or third in the group sounds about right.