Ange Postecoglou not a fan of Celtic's hectic schedule as he explains why hands are tied against Betis
Celtic’s Ange Postecoglou will no doubt have heard a number of his players talking excitedly about the current frenetic programme that will see the club contest no fewer than 10 games across a 33-day stretch.
He can’t share the enthusiasm. The second of these rolls around when Celtic face Dundee United at Tannadice on Sunday, before completing their Europa League campaign at home to Real Betis on Thursday. All sorts of squad juggling will be required by the Australian even just in these – a shadow side likely for the continental encounter rendered largely meaningless by the last time loss in Leverkusen that ended hopes of progress in the competition.
Forced off in the midweek win over Hearts on Tayside, Celtic will be without three central performers on Tayside: Jota and Stephen Welsh out with hamstring issues while Anthony Ralston has been sidelined by an ankle problem. And the prospect of other players wilting in the face of having to push through game upon game over the next month doesn’t appear to thrill him. Not when Celtic are seeking to claim the first trophy of the season in the pre-Christmas League Cup final against Hibs and ramp up their title challenge across a period that concludes with the new year hosting of champions Rangers.
“In Japan, particularly during the covid year, we [also] had an extreme situation and it does take its toll on the players,” the Celtic manager said. “It detracts from the spectacle when players are having to back up every three or four days. At the same time we are trying to get the squad robust enough to handle that. We are in three competitions in this period, with a cup final and playing in Europe. That’s a further burden but it’s one we’d rather have than not. [But] some wear and tear is inevitable. Couple that with how we play our football and how we train and it’s always a fine line between pushing the guys to the maximum and trying to ensure we don’t overload them. With so many games and our squad being limited in certain areas, some of the guys are having to back up. [Injuries] is the risk you run when you try to do things the way we do.”
Against such a backdrop, a Postecoglou who eschews pragmatism in how he sets his team up, seems certain to embrace that in how he lines an XI for Thursday’s encounter with Manuel Pelligrini’s men. “Logically we will take that approach [of playing fringe players]. From our perspective it’s still a game we want to win and perform well in. And it’s not just about resting a few – probably more important is giving some minutes to a few because we are going to need them. We saw against Hearts that Adam Montgomery had to come on and he has not played for four or five weeks. Thursday is an opportunity to get 90 minutes of good football into some of the guys who have not played a lot. James McCarthy, Mikey Johnston, Liel Abada and Nir Bitton all come into that category. There is an opportunity to get some minutes into their legs and have them ready when required.”
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