Fulham v CSKA Sofia, Europa League, December 3, 2009
Overshadowing the pre-match analysis is the news that CSKA Sofia head to West London without their coach, Lyuboslav Penev.
2009 is proving a turbulent year for Penev. The 43-year-old, who played up front alongside Hristo Stoichkov at CSKA, took over the reins of the Bulgarian club back in February after his uncle, Dimitar Penev, decided to walk out on the job. It has since been a rocky road under the new management, with Lyuboslav Penev having resigned in November, saying he was frustrated by the club owners’ decision to reinstate nine players who were suspended after late-night drinking sessions. Eventually the internal mess reached a compromise, and with his tail between his legs Penev decided to continue in his management role at the club.
Now, though, Penev has been hit with more bad news after a Bulgarian court upheld travel bans placed on the coach in respect of over unpaid bank loans. Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry had banned Penev from leaving the country for failing to settle a $1.8 million debt owed to the local Corporate Investment Bank.
All this commotion has been less than welcome for the Bulgarians, who travel to London needing everything to go their way in Group E to keep their Europa League dreams alive. CSKA have to win at the Cottage and hope Roma lose at home to FC Basel, to retain an outside hope of qualifying for the last 32.
At the back, CSKA Sofia for big things from 21-year-old defender Ivan Ivanov (12/1 to score). Representing the future hopes of his nation, Ivanov has already netted twice in 18 matches this season and is known for his passing ability out of defence as well as his excellent positional play.
Further forward, Ivan Stoyanov (16/1 to score first) has been in sparkling form down CSKA’s right hand side this season having tallied nine goals and two assists since the start of the season. Stoyanov is without doubt CSKA’s danger man, possessing lightning pace, physical presence and the guile to deliver high quality ball both from out wide and from dead-ball situations.
Looking to get on the end of Stoyanov’s delivery will be CSKA’s legion of attacking foreigners, lead by Portuguese forward Rui Miguel (5/1 to score) and his brilliantly named strike-partner Michel Plantini (33/1 to score first & CSKA win), while Brazilian attacking midfielder Marquinhos (20/1 to score last) will also be a threat ghosting into danger-areas from deep.
Fulham’s participation in Europe is something of a poisoned chalice for manager Roy Hodgson, as the west London outfit’s squad is arguably too thin to be able to handle the rigours of both the Europa League and the Premier League.
That said, striker Erik Nevland is suspended for the Cottagers, while fellow forward Andrew Johnson remains a long term absentee having had surgery on a groin injury last weekend. Hodgson’s headaches then continue as he will also be without injured Diomansy Kamara, the ineligible Eddie Johnson, while Bobby Zamora (7/2 to score last) is struggling to be fit.
In their absense, Fulham’s attacking threat will likely have to be carried come from some of their more typical wide-men, with the likes of Damien Duff (8/1 to score first & Fulham win), and Clint Dempsey (6/5 to score & Fulham win) responsible for leading Fulham’s makeshift attack.
Fulham’s headaches don’t just relate to their forward line though. Dickson Etuhu is a fitness doubt, while Jonathan Greening and Paul Konchesky are also unable to feature due to suspensions.
With so many upheavals in their side, Fulham will be pleased that defensive rocks Brede Hangeland (6/1 to score) and Aaron Hughes (8/1 to score) are both available at the heart of the backline, while the evergreen Mark Schwarzer will also be on hand between the sticks. (Fulham are 4/6 to keep a clean sheet.)
101predicts: Fulham 1 – CSKA Sofia 1 (13/2)
Full match odds here.