Stuart Armstrong has admitted Celtic are suffering from “jaded legs and minds” but insists their below-par display in Saturday’s Old Firm stalemate should not detract from their remarkable success in 2017.
The Scottish champions ended the year with a 0-0 draw at home to Rangers which leaves them with an eight-point lead at the top of the Premiership table as they go into the three-week winter break for top-flight clubs.
For midfielder Armstrong and his team-mates, their rest and recuperation period – which will see them fly out to Dubai for some warm weather training next weekend – can’t come quickly enough.
But the 25-year-old Scotland international, who played in 54 competitive matches for club and country in the last calendar year, believes criticism of Celtic’s recent performance levels should be tempered by recognition of the demands placed upon them.
“You could lose count of the competitions, the games, the travel – everything involved in the fixture list we have had,” said Armstrong.
“Sometimes it’s important not to forget the intensity of our schedule. So the rest we are now going to get will stand us in good stead going forward into the new year.
“We wanted to win against Rangers, we wanted to go into the winter break off the back of a good win and performance, but it’s been a long year for us with a lot of football. It’s been one of the busiest seasons we have had.
“There was not much break in the summer and now we’re sitting here at New Year looking back on all our achievements, so we should be happy and proud. But the break is important, especially when you have been playing, playing and playing over back-to-back seasons with jaded legs and jaded minds.
“The break has come at a nice time, we have all played a lot of football. It will be good to let the mind and the legs recover. I will take some rest this week, keep myself ticking over. Then when we head to Dubai, all the boys will be fresh there and look to get the fitness back. Most of us only had a week and a half off last summer. That’s a lot of football when you are playing for a club like Celtic. So this gives us a chance to take a breath and re-energise.”
Just as when their unbeaten domestic record came to an end with the 4-0 defeat by Hearts, so Celtic found themselves facing opponents who attempted to press and harry them as high up the pitch as possible on Saturday. Armstrong believes the familiarity bred by the Scottish football schedule means it is inevitable Celtic will have to adapt their approach against domestic rivals.
“When they are pressing, it gives us something to think about, like new ways to get out from the back and take control of the game,” he added. “That’s always going to happen when you come up against teams four or five times a season. They are going to try new things and it’s our job to find solutions.
“When teams come to Celtic Park especially, they sit in and are well organised. It’s not really for them to go and win the game, it’s for us to break through their organisation, be creative and that’s something we’ve incurred for many seasons now.
“We play our best when we play well as a team, when we are organised and our game plan works. Pulling it together is something which has worked so well for us. When you come up against good teams, that’s what it’s all about. It’s not so much about the individual.”