THE last thing that Ange Postecoglou wants to do, you would imagine, is to have his best players sitting beside him on the bench. But the Celtic manager would rather have to suffer that on occasion than have them sitting on the treatment table for the long term.

The injury crisis that blighted the early part of the season cannot be repeated should Celtic want to be successful over the course of this campaign, even though the draw against Livingston on Saturday has sparked a debate over whether Postecoglou has the strength in depth within his squad to carry out a policy of rotation.

To his mind, he has no choice. And while he understands the frustration of supporters who want to see the likes of Kyogo Furuhashi strutting his stuff in every match, he is having to be mindful not to expose his key players to the risk of further – and more lengthy – absences from the team.

“Of course you have to [rotate],” Postecoglou said. “We have already seen we lost Kyogo and Callum McGregor in the last period.

“(Giorgos) Giakoumakis was out, Mikey Johnston, James Forrest. We had no real options up there, so now we have got them back. I have to get them up and running, get them fit and give them as much game-time as possible so we have options up there.

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“We have to be really careful with Kyogo because he left Japan three quarters of a way through a season. He’s come back, he’s had international football, he’s already had an injury.

“I know people want him out there all the time and he’s done fantastically well every time he’s played, [but] we have to be careful as it’s just starting November and he can’t be just playing every game right through to April and May and expect him to perform at the top level.”

As if to illustrate his point, Postecoglou provided an update on injured defender Carl Starfelt, who now won’t be seen this side of the international break. The Celtic manager believes the Swede has been a victim of Celtic’s over-reliance on him since his arrival from Rubin Kazan.

“It’s always a blow when you lose players to injury,” he said. “Since the start, we have been hit by certain injuries.

“To be fair to Carl, he’s played every game since he got here. It’s not surprising he’s had something like this happen.

“We’d love to have rotated him earlier but we’re trying to build some cohesion and consistency with our back four. We didn’t want to chop and change too much because we had to at the start of the year.

“It would have been great to get him through this spell and then the international break would have given him a chance to recover. It’s disappointing to lose him but we’ve got options.”

On Saturday, the solution was to move Nir Bitton back into the heart of the defence, but young centre-back Stephen Welsh may well get the nod to start against Ferencvaros in Budapest tonight.

“Chris Jullien is not ready yet, so we’ll look at an opportunity with Welshy or Nir Bitton back there,” said Postecoglou.

“We have a couple of options we can use for the game and I’ll be comfortable with whatever way I go because both are ready.

“Welshy has been a bit unlucky not to get a bit more game time, so that opportunity might come.”

“He’s already had many games and big European games and I’m sure he’ll be looking for an opportunity and looking forward to it.”

One man who has certainly grasped his opportunity this season is Anthony Ralston, and Postecoglou is delighted that his full-back’s performances this term have been rewarded with a contract extension until 2025.

“It’s a boost and great rewards to him for his hard work and the level of football that he has been playing,” he said.

“He understands why this has happened. It is not because we like him or he works hard because he has always done that. It is because of his performance and his improvement and I’m sure that’s what he’ll want to keep doing.

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“He has a great opportunity now, he has security at the club to make a career for himself and that’s what he’s always wanted here at Celtic. It’s up to him to keep improving.”

The upturn in Ralston’s fortunes is such that it was a surprise to see him omitted from Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad this week for the matches against Moldova and Denmark, but Postecoglou believes that international recognition must be close for the 22-year-old.

“I don’t see any reason why not,” he said. “I think every footballer has that ambition within them and I think that he is showing.

“In his position, he’s probably the stand-out performer this year in the Premiership, so I’m sure he’s on Steve Clarke’s radar and, at the end of the day, he needs to keep performing so that his form is compelling enough that he gets selected.

“I think that will be something that is in the back of his mind, but he knows he needs to keep performing for Celtic first.”

There won’t be any Celtic fans inside the Groupama Arena this evening, but Postecoglou is confident that his men are ready to get the win they will need against Ferencvaros to keep their hopes of making the knockout stages of the competition alive.

“Every game we have had away from home has been a unique challenge,” he said.

“We have been competitive in all of them. The performances. We did lose in Midtjylland, but it was 1-1 after 90 minutes. We lost in AZ Alkmaar, but we actually won the tie on aggregate. We lost in Betis, but gave a top team a helluva game and lost 4-3.

“So every game is an opportunity for us to develop and grow. We’re facing a good team in Ferencvaros and it’s a real big challenge in a game we know we need to win to keep our chances alive of progressing.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t make the Champions League, I’ll be disappointed if we don’t get through the Europa League, I’ll be disappointed if we haven’t got European football in the New Year because those are the kind of opportunities you want to develop and grow.

“For us, that’s the main goal and aim.”