Ange Postecoglou lays down gauntlet to sidelined Celtic stars - 'the players are well aware of that'
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou is comfortable that his fringe players are ready to go when called upon amid an unusually gradual start to the season.
With automatic qualification to the Champions League for the first time in nine years secured, Celtic have only played two games so far while the vast majority of their rivals have been involved in Premier Sports Cup or European action.
When Hearts play in the Europa League qualifiers next Thursday, Celtic will have played the least amount of games of any team in the Scottish league.
The cinch Premiership champions are accustomed to a hectic schedule of midweek action and Ange Postecoglou recently admitted he had been treating the first stage of the campaign like an extended pre-season.
Last summer, the former Australia head coach was struggling to put together a squad while playing European qualifiers but 12 months on he has more than enough players to meet the demands of the league campaign.
That has meant players such as Carl Starfelt, James Forrest, Mikey Johnston and new signing Alexander Bernabei have yet to start their season but Postecoglou is happy with how everyone has been preparing.
“There’s no challenges for me,” he said ahead of Sunday’s trip to face Kilmarnock. “The challenge is for the players to continue to train every day and keep the performance levels high every time they play, so when the inevitable opportunity comes, they are ready to take it.
“At the moment our training levels have been very good, very high standard, very competitive, very intense. Because we only have a game a week, so some players aren’t playing and to compensate for that they have got to work hard in training.
“The inevitability is their opportunity will come and that opportunity could come in a Champions League game and what they have got to know is they are prepared for that.
“There is no point getting that opportunity and saying, ‘I didn’t think I was going to play, I wasn’t ready for it’.
“The players are well aware of that and their attitude has been first rate in terms of making sure our training has been really competitive and they are ready to go.
“We have organised a couple of bounce games during the week and the indicators there are that everyone is ready to go, and that’s all I really need to see.”
Plastic pitch challenge
Postecoglou faces a new challenge on Sunday, with a trip to Rugby Park to face Championship title winners Killie.
But he vowed there would be no change in approach on the artificial surface.
Celtic lost on Livingston’s plastic pitch in September last year but won convincingly in West Lothian next time out and have not lost a domestic game on the road since that first game at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
“It’s about making sure we prepare well and understand the challenges that the surface may present to us and overcoming that challenge just by sticking to our principles, as we did last year when we went to Livingston,” Postecoglou said.
“We had a strong second game after a disappointing first one.
“No change to our approach, just an awareness that there is a different challenge there.”