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Fulham could face dilemma, says boss

Mark Hughes

Mark Hughes

Mark Hughes believes that European football could have an influence on the outcome of tonight's Carling Cup third-round home tie against Premier League rivals Fulham.

The quest for Europe next season is Hughes' minimum target for the campaign - but the Blues boss well knows that the demands of playing abroad can impinge significantly on the home front.

Fulham, the last side to win at the Stadium in April, are involved in the group stage of the Europa Cup, which has replaced the UEFA Cup, and Hughes said: "We will have to see whether they play their strongest team or not.

"They have a number of demands on them this year with the Premier League and Europa League as well. How high the Carling Cup is on their list of priorities, we will just have to see.

"We know from our own experience of Europe that trying to have a good cup run at home is a big test for squads that rely on the same personnel week-in, week-out.

"European football was a big demand on us last year, and we really did not have the depth in the squad to cope. Fulham benefited from a season where they did not have too many injuries, and they will hope that's the same this year.

"They had an outstanding season and Roy Hodgson has stamped his philosophy on the club. His team plays good football. They have threats in a lot of areas, so it's going to be a real test for us."

Pablo Zabaleta and Sylvinho, both on the bench for Sunday's Old Trafford derby, are candidates for a run-out but Hughes has no returning absentees to re-shuffle his team too radically.

He said: "We have not got that many fit and available. Looking at our bench at the weekend we had several full-backs. David Ball, who has done well of late in the reserves, was there as a reward for his recent form.

"It was still a bit weakened, and we've not added to our options against Fulham. That forces my hand, and we'll go with what we have got. It's still a strong group, but we don't have too many options."

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