Roy Hodgson last night denied Fulham are neglecting the Europa League by making wholesale changes for tonight's Group E match with CSKA Sofia. Only goalkeeper David Stockdale and defender John Paintsil survive from the starting line-up that defeated Everton 2-1 on Sunday.
Fulham have been robbed of front-line players such as Danny Murphy and Clint Dempsey through injury, but Hodgson has also opted to rest the likes of Andy Johnson and Brede Hangeland. Aston Villa and Tottenham made their opinion clear of Europe's second-grade trophy last season by fielding severely weakened sides and paid the price with their exit.
But Hodgson defended his team selection by denying he has adopted a similar tactic, declaring he expects his international heavy line-up to topple the Bulgarian league leaders.
"We're not neglecting the tournament. When Aston Villa and Tottenham fielded what they thought were weaker sides there was virtually no one from their first-team squad involved," he said. "I fully believe the team I put out will be very competitive. Only one player – Stockdale – has not played international football.
"All the others have played for their countries so we're not talking about an inexperienced team lacking in ability.
"There's no point signing players like Jonathan Greening, Bjorn Helge Riise, Erik Nevland and Zoltan Gera if you're not going to use them.
"If we play well and get through to the next round we'd be delighted, but if we can't then we won't be shedding that many tears. We've said all along our priority is the Premier League and I'd take beating relegation over winning the Europa League every time."
Fulham's game at the Vasil Levski Stadium stadium will see the addition of two assistant referees for the first time. The officials will be positioned behind each goal to help police the penalty area but Hodgson is keen to see the initiative in action before offering his verdict. "In principle the idea of having an extra pair of eyes is good," he added. "But we're interested to see if in reality it works."