Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers expects his squad to return from the winter break in even better shape to take on the challenge of securing the treble.
Looking for his squad to be mentally refreshed and physically sound, with injured players back in the fold and, possibly, new acquisitions in place, he says the purpose of this week’s trip to Dubai is not to cram in glamour friendlies, but to reinforce the messages he has given them throughout the first half of the season and make sure they are an even more imposing force when then return to domestic duty in a couple of weeks.
“I only see the winter break as a positive for us. Press the reset button and get ready to go again,” said Rodgers.
“The beauty of it is we’ll be fresh and we’ll maybe have one or two new players. We’ll certainly have a few back like Kieran Tierney and Tom Rogic. It can only benefit us.”
While rival clubs might have been hoping that Celtic would take the opportunity to down tools and simply catch some sun in Dubai, Rodgers believes that would be profligate and, with a much sought-after treble at stake, that is something he won’t countenance.
So far Celtic have remained undefeated in the Scottish game, winning the League Cup, while a solitary draw in 20 Premiership outings is all that has sullied an otherwise 100 per cent record. It leaves them 19 points clear of second-placed Rangers, with a game in hand, and with sights turning to the Scottish Cup as they attempt to make it through the entire domestic campaign unbeaten.
“One of the biggest things is resilience,” says Rodgers. “In any good team you have to have that. You can never afford to have a lazy day. The players here will tell you that. You have to be pushing every single day. When they think they can maybe come off it a bit, you push them again. You have to keep going, fighting and improving. Every day is a chance to improve and if you don’t you’ve wasted it as you’ll never get it back. Once today is gone that’s it.
“There’s been a huge volume of games. They’ve had a lot thrown at them, physically and mentally, in the seven months that we’ve been here. I think that refresher will help and allow us to work on other aspects of the game.
“We’re not playing any games so it gives us more training time. We just want to reinforce our principles and work on different aspects of the game. If we were to be successful as we wanted to be, then we identified this period as one for recovery with a warm-weather training camp. It’s all gone to plan.”
After a busy start to Rodgers’ tenure, the key will be maintaining focus and the enthusiasm, as well as holding on to important players. So far the club have shunned interest in Moussa Dembele but West Ham are circling, while there is allegedly Chinese interest in Leigh Griffiths and Celtic have been linked with additions to the squad.
Dutch 30-year-old attacker Lex Immers, who has been released by Cardiff City, has been named as one target, as has Ivory Coast midfielder Kouassi Eboue. But Rodgers says he will not be overloading the squad, having had to work so hard to cull the numbers he inherited.
“I prefer a small group to work with. Sixteen, 17 professionals with then young professionals who have the chance to feel they can play in the team.
“I inherited 29 when I came in so you have to manage it but my preference is always to have a smaller group so everyone in it feels they are close. Some players went on loan so the number came down but I have just had to manage it the best I can.”