Celtic boss Neil Lennon revealed that he pushed his players to keep the pressure on KR Reykjavik in their 6-0 win – to build fitness ahead of the challenges to come.
The Scottish champions were 3-0 ahead by half time in their Champions League first qualifying round tie with their Icelandic opponents having barely threatened Celtic’s goal.
After the team sat out the last two rounds of Premiership fixtures, Lennon said he had urged his players to continue to play at a high tempo and with intensity in the second half against KR, hoping to add fitness and sharpness to his squad.
“We asked them [to keep going] at half-time because they need the games,” he said. “Any lethargy or rust or lack of match practice, they need to get through it.
“It was important to try and increase the intensity and get the game into the legs.
“We’ll see how they are on Thursday but they should get a benefit from that. We’ve got a big couple of weeks coming up so it’s important we keep our focus.
“The 10 days off didn’t help and we only had two competitive games before this game, whereas a lot of other teams have had four or five, so we’ve got a little bit of catch-up.
“The likes of (Olivier) Ntcham has only played 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there, so I want to give him more game time as we go along.
“Tom Rogic has only had about 15 minutes in the past three or four weeks.
“For the likes of (Hatem Abd) Elhamed and (Nir) Bitton, it’s been very good for them, and they came through it OK, and for the rest of them, to get through another 90 minutes is important, so hopefully we’re over that hump now and we go on now.”
The manager said he had been more than satisfied with his side’s work, with six goals and a clean sheet the ideal start to the European campaign. He was full of praise for defender Christopher Jullien, who was both goal provider and scorer on the night.
“I thought he was excellent, you saw what he was good at tonight,” Lennon said.
“Not only setting up the first goal but scores a great goal from a corner.
“I thought defensively he looked more like himself which I thought he would do. The more he plays the better he gets.
“He can be delighted and Nir Bitton had a good game alongside him.
“Lot of positives, sets up nicely for the weekend and the next round. It was a good night’s work
“Really important to get 90 minutes into the legs and negotiate the tie.
“To score six goals and keep a clean sheet is very good, so I am pleased with a lot of that tonight. We look forward to Saturday now.”
Celtic await the outcome of the tie between Ferencvaros and Djurgardens to learn who they face in the next round and Lennon said both would provide a sterner test.
“I don’t really have any preference,” he said. “They are two well organised teams. I’ve been impressed with Ferencvaros from what I’ve seen from them so far.
“It will be interesting to watch the game on Wednesday night, I think it will be tight.”