Lennon keeps one eye on European trials to come
IF CELTIC should be crowned Scottish champions with weeks to spare – as most observers believe likely – their key players could be told to go on holiday to prepare them for the early start to next season's European campaign.
That scenario might not be welcomed by all, but will be necessary to prevent burnout, according to Neil Lennon.
The Hoops manager, who takes his players to Kilmarnock for today's lunchtime televised fixture, admitted that he had still not wholly absorbed the impact of reaching the last 16 of the Champions League, after the tense home victory over Spartak Moscow, but warned that the feat will be extremely difficult to replicate.
"It was much needed, getting into the Champions League knock-outs," said Lennon. "It keeps people in jobs for two or three years which is fantastic and keeps the morale going around the place. It was needed because it could have been a long haul for a few years.
"I'm not saying it's going to be a regular thing, because we've got three qualifiers next season and there's no guarantees we'll get through them. I think they're the most difficult games of the lot.
"Looking at it, we might have to stagger the season a little bit in terms of maybe trying to give them a break even this season and bring them back early for the qualification games in early July or mid-July.
"We'll be looking to maybe bring them back mid to late June which almost feels like they've been in it for 12 months.
"We're thinking about maybe giving them some time off at the end of the season. Mind you, if we get into the Scottish Cup final then we'd have to bring them back, but it's a scenario we're looking at."
As for what might transpire when the draw for the Champions League knock-out stage is made on December 20, Lennon said: "People are asking me and I have no favourite, but I suppose in terms of glamour it would be Manchester United. I would like to avoid them if I could.
"I'd have to go up against Alex and he's been very good during the campaign in terms of tidbits and advice. He was texting me yesterday and he said, 'Congratulations. Great achievement. I thought you'd do it.'
"I said: 'I hope we don't draw you'.
"He said: 'Well, if you do, make sure there's a bottle of good red wine'.
"Dortmund would be another one. They've been very impressive over two years. To come out of that group was very impressive as was the way they did it. As for the rest, they're all good sides.
"We did avoid some good teams, too, when you think about it – Real Madrid, Arsenal and teams like that. It doesn't really matter. Two months down the line, I don't know where we'll be form wise, I don't know where we'll be personnel wise and the other clubs don't know where they'll be either. Over two games anything can happen, so it's brilliant and very exciting and we'd like to take it on."
Meanwhile, Lennon will have to reshuffle his pack again for the trip to Ayrshire, aware of Kilmarnock's capacity for disruption, especially in the aftermath of Celtic heroics in the Champions League. On October 27, four days after the Parkhead side lost to Barcelona three minutes into injury time at the Nou Camp, Kenny Shiels' side registered a 2-0 victory in the east end of Glasgow.
Mikael Lustig and Kris Commons have been ruled out because of hamstring and thigh injuries respectively, but Victor Wanyama is back after missing the European tie through suspension and Scott Brown trained again yesterday, which suggests that he will be available for at least part of the proceedings this afternoon. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Kilmarnock v Celtic,
Live, ESPN, 12.30