No fewer than 22 senior players have been recruited as 21 have made way – five of these currently out on loan. Yet, as he prepares to tweak his title-winning team for a Dingwall date that will bring a first cinch Premiership away assignment of the season, the 56-year-old maintains he isn’t attempting to build towards an idealised first XI. The side he will field against Ross County will feature at least one starting change from his selection for the opening weekend win at home to Aberdeen. Reo Hatate will miss out after “a couple of knocks and a bit of muscle strain” arising from “a couple of hard tackles and some clashes didn’t come out of too well” in the 2-0 success over the Pittodrie men. Postecoglou is intent on being “conservative” with the fitness of players, but not in how he dips into a squad with ample depth and, in the case of the Japanese playmaker, a replacement of at least equal prowess in David Turnbull.
A paucity of options last season meant Turnbull was one of the players that required to be flogged through November and December, which culminated in him being sidelined for three months with a hamstring strain sustained in the Betfred Cup final the weekend before Christmas. Postecoglou is determined that there will be no repeats.
“With David and a few others, we paid the price for them having to play so many games,” he said, Kyogo Furuhashi and Jota also lost for lengthy periods. “We can’t have them playing games at that rate again. The way we play is quite intense and it takes its toll physically, and mentally. So I don’t have a first XI, I don’t have a set midfield three and then another one. What I do have is players who can play in those areas and I want to get the maximum out of all of them. The only way I can do that is by keeping them fresh for when they are needed.
"I know why people will actually think that last week’s team is kind of my first XI and everyone else is after that. I just don’t work that way. It’s not the way I think. Every XI I put out there is the XI to start a game – not a judgement on players or someone being better than someone else. Talking about David, he’s had a really strong pre-season and has made an impact. He had a really strong season last year and up until his injury last season, he was one of our key players. I think he will have a strong year this season but he won’t play 50 games, Matt O’Riley won’t play 50 games – none of them will play 50 games. The whole idea in the way of setting things up this year, particularly in midfield, is that we have depth. That is so we can make sure that guys don’t get overburdened.
One player far from overburdened is James McCarthy, linked with a move away from his boyhood club over frustrations at lack of game time. “I haven’t talked to Macca about anything,” the Celtic manager said. “He’s training every day and beyond that, there is nothing on the radar.”