DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Clint Dempsey and the Cottagers face a winner-takes-all date in Basel while Tim Howard and Everton have little pressure in their final game of the Europa League group stage.
FC Basel - Fulham
Clint Dempsey is expected to be part of Roy Hodgson's full-strength Fulham squad as the Cottagers must earn a victory on Wednesday to break into the knockout round.
In their first foray into European-level group stage, the Cottagers have found themselves ensconced in the middle of one of the highlighted groups of an arguably bland competition.
With the last match day upon them, they have the opportunity to break into the final 32, but will need to clear the last hurdle of beating Basel, who they trail by one point, if they hope to continue in the competition.
They will have their work cut out for them, as the Swiss team have thus far been perfect at home, easily seeing off both Sofia and group leaders Roma in their previous two outings in St. Jakob-Park. The Cottagers have also been less than spectacular on the road, only picking up one point in their first game in Sofia before coming away empty-handed in Rome in early-November.
The previous weeks have seen Fulham on the top of their game, going undefeated in their last five games across all competitions, however they have yet to shake the club curse of ineptness on the road, having not tasted victory away from the Cottage since the opening game of the current Premier League campaign in mid-August.
With their recent run having taken them safely to the upper half of the Premier League standings, Hogdson is expected to bring as much firepower as possible in the traveling squad in an attempt to push past their Swiss opposition.
Striker Andy Johnson continues to be out of the squad due to a nagging groin injury, while Erik Nevland, Paul Konchesky and Chris Baird are all suspended.
Simon Davies and Diomansy Kamara are also expected to miss the game with respective ankle and knee injuries, however Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu are expected to return to the fold after recovering from their knocks.
Everton - BATE Borisov
With second place in Group I wrapped up, Tim Howard and his Everton teammates will hope to avoid the injury curse that has plagued the team all season as they host BATE on Thursday night.
The Toffees' win in their previous Europa League game in Athens two weeks before assured their passage to the knockout round, however came at a price as it added another trio of players to their already lengthy injury list.
The decimated squad has been a detriment to their league campaign all season as they have spent most of its three-plus months close to the relegation zone, however a pair of dramatic draws against leading teams Chelsea and Tottenham in their last two games have given them some momentum and reason for hope.
Everton coach David Moyes continues to see Phil Neville, Victor Anichebe, Mikkel Arteta, and Phil Jagielka all sidelined for lengthy spells due to knee injuries, while Joseph Yobo, Dan Gosling and Sylvan Distin are all suffering from hamstring pulls.
In addition, James Vaughan and Leon Osman are expected to also miss the game with respective knee and ankle problems.
Jared Jeffrey is not expected to suit up for Club Brugge on Wednesday night as they seek to pass into the knockout round needing only to avoid defeat against visiting Toulouse to secure their spot in the final 32.
Dominic Cervi will likely play no part on Thursday as Celtic and their hosts Rapid Wien battle it out to avoid the distinction of last place in Group C, with both teams already out of contention from the knockout stage.
Bryan Arguez will take no part as Hertha Berlin try to clench their place in the knockout stage on Wednesday night, needing only a tie at home against Sporting CP to secure second in Group D.