Damiano on Hammers

Monday 21 October 2002

The two games against West Ham last year perfectly encapsulated Fulham's season. In the 2-0 away victory at what was then Fortress Upton Park, the Whites produced a display of fast-moving incisive football that at times took the breath away.

In stark contrast, the 1-0 home defeat, losing to West Ham's only shot of the game, was about as bad as it possibly gets. Fulham's play was completely toothless and the team displayed the sort of confidence that you would expect after having gone eleven games without a win.

Confidence at the moment should be at an all-time high. After giving Manchester United the run-around on Saturday and being desperately unlucky not to take away all three points, the players must surely be in the right frame of mind for taking on anybody at the moment and should be well up for the visit of West ham on Wednesday night. As assistant manager Christian Damiano says, the United match was a good barometer of the team's development so far.

"The game against Manchester will give us a lot of confidence going forward," he said, "We can compare now to when we played them in the Cup two years ago, and now against such a good team we can see how much progress we have made.

"We had a lot of chances on Saturday to win the game. Barthez was either very clever or he cheated; but whichever way you want to look at it he successfully put the pressure on and prevented us from taking the extra two points.

"But we're in a very interesting position now, and I hope that we have the capacity to take points from all the big teams this season."

West Ham may have been languishing at the bottom of the league this season, but away from Upton Park their form hasn't been too bad, with good wins over Chelsea and Sunderland to their credit. Damiano is emphatic that the team aren't going to take the challenge of the Hammers lightly.

"They had a very good result on Saturday," he said, "And at this moment I think that they are more able to play away from home. Perhaps there is less pressure on them; without the crowd on their backs and not so much expectation of getting a result, they might play in more of a relaxed way.

"They can be a dangerous side; we saw that against Chelsea and Sunderland. They might be in difficulty in the league, but they have the capacity to react properly. They have many good players who are able to make a difference to the game. They might not be getting much luck at the moment, but they have many players who are able to score - Sinclair and Di Canio, for instance, are fine players who are able to score and get a result.

"Their team will take a lot of confidence from the Sunderland result and also the fact that they have moved out of the bottom three. They will be in a lot more positive frame of mind now."

Damiano believes that West Ham won't adopt a defensive line-up on Wednesday and is fully anticipating that they will take the game to the Whites.

"I think that they will play a straightforward four-four-two against us, with Di Canio taking up a free role," he said, "Di Canio is a very creative player - he is like a Zola, he can make a difference in every part of the pitch.

"We played very well at West Ham last season - they were doing very well at home and we got a very good result there. But at home we lost; they attacked once and scored once. But this is football - this is the way it goes."

In the modern game it's essential to have a large squad of players, and the effective rotation of that squad is now a key skill in a manager's armoury. In Damiano's view, this season's larger squad, together with the extra experience of playing at the top level for a year, has made Fulham a much more formidable team.

"Sometimes you make changes because you are looking at the whole squad and which players are available, and sometimes you do different things against different teams. Against Manchester we did things a certain way, and perhaps against West Ham we'll do it another way. It's a difficult time coming up for us, with seven games in twenty-one days, so we must make use of the whole squad.

"What's for sure, is that every player here has improved. If when that happens you are able to keep the quality of the team's play, then that should reflect positively on the pitch. If you say that we were a bottom-ten team last season, then we are definitely a top-ten team this year.

"We have had a very good start, and now we must keep our focus, our quality and our effectiveness. It might be that we will suffer late on because we had such an early start to the season, but that is something we must prepare for and manage.

"We are doing better now because we have a bigger and a better squad, so we are able to change things round and to rest players if we want to; we are better able to manage and organise the team. Of course it is more difficult in one way to have more choice, but this is the position you have to be in to challenge for the top. It might be difficult for us to manage, but it is even more difficult for the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool who have squads of more than twenty top-class players, and this is more of a problem for them.

"Players are never happy to stay on the bench. They want to be involved in every game, and they become unhappy if they feel that they aren't the first choice. But if you have fifty or sixty games in front of you, then you will not be able to play to the highest level in every game. Forty games or forty-five perhaps, but not more. Even the best players cannot do it for sixty games.

"Our objective for our squad is to have a minimum of two players competing for every place - one substitute for each spot. It is impossible for one player to play every game. We have not achieved that situation yet, but we are getting there."

And West Ham?

"It should be a tremendous game on Wednesday," said Damiano, "But we judge a game ultimately by the result. We only drew against Manchester, so that left us disappointed, but now we have the opportunity to put that right against West Ham and Saturday's performance can only give us more confidence that we can do that."