Nir Bitton believes Celtic’s fringe players proved against Real Betis that the squad can deal with whatever comes their way during their hectic schedule.
Celtic suffered a major injury blow against the Spaniards when strikers Kyogo Furuhashi and Albian Ajeti went off with hamstring injuries.
With Giorgos Giakoumakis working his way back from minor knee surgery, Ange Postecoglou is set to be without any recognised first-team striker when Celtic host Motherwell on Sunday in the cinch Premiership.
Key winger Jota is also missing for several weeks and both James Forrest and Anthony Ralston were unavailable for Thursday’s Europa League game, to join long-term absentees Christopher Jullien and Karamoko Dembele on the sidelines.
Celtic have seven more games before the winter break begins in early January but Bitton is not shying away from the challenge.
“I think if you ask any footballer in the world what he would rather do, whether it’s train all week or play three games in a week, everyone would say three games in a week,” the Israel international said.
“It’s a very busy schedule for us this month but we have to deal with it.
“We have a good squad with a lot of quality and we have to deal with everything that comes our way, whether it be injuries or suspensions, anything. We have to deal with everything and make sure we finish this month as strongly as possible.”
Postecoglou made 11 changes for Celtic’s final Europa League game and could not have asked for much more after his side beat Betis 3-2.
Former Sheffield Wednesday pair Liam Shaw and Osaze Urhoghide made impressive debuts, having obviously made significant progress in training since their pre-season outings.
And 21-year-old midfielder Ewan Henderson scored his first Celtic goal in his first appearance of the season after replacing fellow substitute Furuhashi.
Bitton feels the players who featured all showed they could step up and play more regularly if needed.
“I think we all showed that,” he said. “We were playing against a decent side. They are third in La Liga, the team they put out was quite strong and we coped with that really well.
“Our squad is good, our squad is strong, we believe in each other. We have a system which we try to work with every single day and even the guys who haven’t played much since the beginning of the season came in and did an amazing job.”
Postecoglou stated after the game that he would not tone down his training demands in light of the injuries in case that hindered performances.
When asked if training was as intense as ever, Bitton said: “It’s up there. The expectations were always there, since I came to Celtic. When you play for such a big club you are always expected to win, to win trophies, to fight for every competition you play in.
“I would say that now, with the manager, training is really intense. You saw even the guys who haven’t played much since the start of the season, they coped with the intensity very well because we train with a good intensity every day.
“From my point of view I’m just trying to improve every day. Even though I’m 30 now, I’m trying to to learn new things and every single manager who comes to Celtic is a good opportunity because they are all very knowledgeable and very good at their job.
“The training is really intense, the quality is always there and we just need to make sure we improve as a team.”
Bitton was handed the captaincy on Thursday and joked that Callum McGregor should step aside.
“One game, one win,” he said. “Just give me it. No, it was a real privilege for me. I was really honoured to captain this amazing club.
“It’s just another milestone for me. I’m almost nine years here and I really love this club, everything about this club.”
Celtic will now park their European aspirations but only after Monday’s draw for the Europa Conference League knockout-round play-off, which will see them paired with one of Bodo/Glimt, Maccabi Tel-Aviv, PAOK, Partizan Belgrade, Qarabag, Randers, Slavia Prague and either Vitesse or Tottenham.
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