THERE may be more than a grain of truth in the notion that Celtic supporters would, if faced with a take-it or leave-it choice, gladly dispense with the Europa League this season if it meant securing a ninth league title in a row. For me, though, neither Neil Lennon nor the Celtic players will be thinking that way.

In my experience being part of some of those league wins during the original nine-in-a-row era, we didn’t treat any game any differently to the rest, we just took them head on as they came. I think that Neil Lennon will be the same.

That’s why it wouldn’t surprise me to see a full-strength Celtic team out at home this afternoon against Ross County (with the exception of the suspended Ryan Christie, of course), and I would expect a similar look to the line-up again on Thursday night against Lazio.

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These are both huge games for the club for different reasons. The defeat to Livingston last time out means that Celtic simply must get back on track against County with a win to keep pace with Rangers.

Steven Gerrard’s men are undoubtedly stronger this season, and they will pose the biggest threat yet to Celtic’s domestic dominance since the whole title winning run kicked off.

I still maintain that Celtic have the better players overall and the better team, and I think Rangers are still suspect defensively, but you can’t deny that they have a frontline that are really firing at the minute. The goal difference between the sides, for example, is already a minor concern.

Celtic have given them an inch with two consecutive draws in the league, but they can’t afford to give Rangers a mile by slipping up at home to County too, with all due respect to the Highlanders.

Instead, Celtic must take advantage of this opportunity to turn up the heat on Rangers as their rivals don’t travel to Tynecastle until Sunday lunchtime. Despite the poor form of Hearts so far this season, that is usually a tough venue to get a result, and while Rangers will go there with their tails up Celtic don’t want to give them any further encouragement by presenting them a chance to open up a significant gap on them even this early in the season.

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The Lazio game, when it comes, will take care of itself, and I’d be amazed if it had even entered into Neil Lennon’s thoughts as yet. That being said, it has all the ingredients for a classic European night at Celtic Park, and despite what some fans may say, these are the occasions that you would really miss if you didn’t have them.

Lazio may not be the team they once were, but they are a huge name in Italian and European football and bring a touch of glamour with them to Glasgow. Lennon and his players will want to test themselves against that calibre of opposition, and I think there is also the reputation of the club to be considered when you think about the importance of European football.

They will want to prove that they aren’t just a big fish in a small pond, and that they can compete against players and teams of that level.

With Neil Lennon naming the same team against Rennes away and Cluj at home, it wouldn’t surprise me to see something along those lines in both of these matches. He seems to have settled on his strongest 11, and it has brought him results in those games as the group stage has got off to an encouraging start.

He may well have been tempted to tweak things a little more if they hadn’t lost at Livingston, and as the season goes on, I would fully expect the manager to utilise the depth of the squad that he has put together over the summer.

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It is obviously difficult to manage playing on a Thursday and a Sunday every week, and that is a balancing act that Lennon will have to perfect, but Rangers are in the same boat too after all.

For now, though, it is all about getting three points against Ross County, so I think we will see the strongest team available to Neil Lennon taking to the Celtic Park pitch this afternoon to make sure that a crucial win is safely delivered.

Then we can all relax and look forward to what promises to be a wonderful occasion on Thursday night