CELTIC manager Neil Lennon insists it is worth “sacrificing” some Clydesdale Bank Premier League matches for the long-term health of his title-winning squad.
Centre-backs Kelvin Wilson and Efe Ambrose and midfield pair Kris Commons and Joe Ledley were all given the week off before missing Celtic’s 3-1 defeat by Motherwell on Sunday.
They will be back in contention for the champions’ clash against Ross County on Sunday in Dingwall, where Celtic lost on their last visit.
But goalkeeper Fraser Forster, defenders Emilio Izaguirre and Charlie Mulgrew and forwards Gary Hooper and Georgios Samaras will be missing after being handed an early holiday this week.
Lennon is looking to keep his squad fresh for the William Hill Scottish Cup final against Hibernian on May 26, with another eye on their early start to next season with their opening Champions League qualifier scheduled for July 16-17.
Lennon told the Celtic View: “Charlie, Sammy, Gary, Emilio and Fraser will all be getting a break as they won’t be getting an opportunity later on and we feel this is the best thing to do for them come the start of pre-season.
“Of course Ross County will be a difficult game - they all are - but I have to think about going ahead, moving on.”
Lennon, whose team are 12 points ahead of second-placed Motherwell with three matches left, added: “I have to think about the lack of rest they are going to get come the summer, so all these things come into our thinking.
“It’s been a long hard season for the players and there will be another long, hard schedule for them next season, with the qualifiers coming round so early.
“We are sacrificing a couple of games now with forward planning, one, for the cup final and, two, for close season and pre-season.
“We are the champions and must not forget that. The league is done and dusted. You don’t like losing games but we have to give the squad players an opportunity now that the main games are over.
“I want to play some of them and give them some game time and rest the guys who have played a lot of games.
“There are squad places up for grabs in the cup final and it’s healthy to have this competition.”