WHEN Ange Postecoglou named his team for Celtic’s final pre-season friendly against Norwich City, it was taken by many as a sign that not only was the match a dress rehearsal for the opening day fixture the following week, but that the line-up formed his preferred starting XI.

The exception of course may have been the inclusion of Stephen Welsh over the injured Carl Starfelt, but it was reasonably assumed that in the Celtic manager’s mind, these players were the strongest he had available to him.

That suspicion was strengthened further when he did indeed jot down the same names on his teamsheet for matchday one of the Premiership, leaving the likes of David Turnbull, Giorgos Giakoumakis and Liel Abada kicking their heels on the bench.

So, when Reo Hatate picked up an injury in the win over Aberdeen that will keep him out of this afternoon’s trip to Dingwall to face Ross County, it was put to Postecoglou that his absence may present an opportunity to someone like Turnbull, for instance, to stake a claim for a regular place in the starting team.

For Postecoglou though, that opportunity is there for all of his players, every single day.

“I get it,” Postecoglou said. “I know why people will actually think that last week’s team is kind of my first XI and everyone else is after that. I just don’t work that way. It’s not the way I think.

“Every XI I put out there is the XI to start a game. That’s not a judgement on players or someone being better than someone else.

“Talking about David, he’s had a really strong pre-season and has made an impact in games when he’s started and came on. He had a really strong season last year and up until his injury last season, he was one of our key players.

“I think he will have a strong year this season but he won’t play 50 games, Matt O’Riley won’t play 50 games - none of them will play 50 games.

“The whole idea in the way of setting things up this year, particularly in midfield, is that we have depth. That is so we can make sure that guys don’t get overburdened.

“The problem with David last year is that he played every game in the first half of the year and he ended up getting injured.

“With David and a few others, we paid the price for them having to play so many games. We can’t have them playing games at that rate again. The way we play is quite intense and it takes its toll physically, and mentally.

“So I don’t have a first XI, I don’t have a set midfield three and then another one. What I do have is players who can play in those areas and I want to get the maximum out of all of them.

“The only way I can do that is by keeping them fresh for when they are needed.”

What may help the Celtic players stay fresher this season - beyond the improved squad depth - is the absence of Champions League qualifiers, and Postecoglou also hopes the extra time on the training ground will also have allowed for a refinement of his gameplan.

“It’s been a different start to the season but it won’t be long until we are in among it - at the highest possible level,” he said.

“That is what we are preparing for now. We know the Champions League is on the horizon.

“These next three weeks, without midweek games, is a chance to keep working hard in training and build on our physical conditioning.

“We want to take the opportunity to build our game model as come the end of the month, the midweek games start and they will be of the highest quality.

“We need to be ready for that.”

Postecoglou is still hoping to bring some further additions into his squad too during what remains of the transfer window, while there are others who may be heading out to play more regularly, such as winger Mikey Johnston.

The Celtic manager says though that despite reports suggesting James McCarthy wants to move on too, he hasn’t addressed the player’s situation with him directly.

“Mikey is with us and training,” he said. “He’s fully fit and working hard.

“We feel Mikey needs some game-time, so we will see how things develop in the next few weeks.

“I haven’t talked to Macca (McCarthy) about anything. He’s training every day and beyond that, there is nothing on the radar.”

For now, Postecoglou is fully focused on maintaining his side’s positive start to the league campaign in the Highlands this afternoon.

His side lost all three of their opening three away fixtures last season, and he is desperate to avoid similar disappointment this time around against tough opposition.

“People talk about the journey up and the venue, but County are difficult opponents for a lot of reasons,” he said.

“They are an aggressive team with and without the ball. They put teams under pressure and they don’t sit back.

“County gave us a good challenge home and away last year, and they did well against Hearts last weekend too.

“This will be a good challenge for us but we need to focus on our football and if we play the best of our ability, we know we are hard to stop.”