While many Fulham fans rejoiced at the prospect of European football this season for the second time in their history, some of may have been forgiven for fearing the damage it could do to their Premier League status.Three games in a week can affect even the strongest of squads. Manchester City found this out last season when their spluttering league campaign was arguably not helped by the additional fixtures they faced playing in the Uefa Cup.
Not only did they miss out on success with defeat in the quarter-finals to Hamburg, but their 10th-place finish in the Premier League was not enough to claim a place in this season's inaugural Europa League. It was Fulham who claimed the spot. They head to Eastlands today and are now aware of how difficult it is to maintain a level of consistency when involved in both competitions. Roy Hodgson's side beat Hull on Monday to move into mid-table and gained an impressive draw against Roma on Thursday, but fatigue could now play a factor against City, according to the City manager Mark Hughes.
"It's a big ask for them," he said. "It's difficult when you're in Europe, as we found out at times to our cost, so we hope to benefit from that on this occasion." City are noticeably fresher without the European involvement, and Hughes should be able to call upon Kolo Toure and Craig Bellamy after injury ruled them out of the 1-1 draw at Wigan last weekend. Toure brings a calming authority to the defence and scored the winner against Fulham in their Carling Cup meeting last month. The impressive form of Bellamy has been a highlight of their campaign so far and Hughes hopes a fast pace could make the difference.
"The key will be tempo because Fulham are a difficult side to break down," he added. When Fulham won at City two seasons ago, it helped keep them in the top flight. Last season, a 3-1 victory went towards them reaching Europe. Hodgson said: "We have every reason to be confident going up there, but they have spent hundreds of millions on players and talking about them now is a bit different to talking about them the past two seasons."
@Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Manchester City v Fulham, KO 7pm, Showsports 4