Neil Lennon looks forward to battling on two fronts

Neil Lennon's immediate focus is on Celtic getting across the line this season – even if it is only a matter of time.

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Georgios Samaras is a player Neil Lennon would like fit to face Juventus
Georgios Samaras is a player Neil Lennon would like fit to face Juventus

Of more ongoing concern is the challenge of ensuring the Parkhead side can replicate their European exploits again next season, a task that will be made all the more difficult by the fact that three qualifying rounds need to be negotiated before thoughts of lucrative group stage ties can be entertained.

With World Cup qualifiers taking place in June, it means many Celtic players won't get a chance to relax until the middle of the month, with them being back at the club preparing for the Euro push within a matter of weeks.

And Lennon fears that some of his players could face being burned out before a ball has been kicked.

As such, he will utilise any breathing space that Celtic get by crossing the line early this season in order to rest his key stars.

But since he is also keen to book the Hoops a place at Hampden in May in the William Hill Scottish Cup final, it will be something of a balancing act between resting and ticking over.

Lennon said: "There will be players playing away with their country, possibly right up until the middle of June.

"It feels like they are playing all year round now because those guys really won't get much of a break and that is always something that gives you a bit of concern.

"It can be the following season, once you're in a few months, that these players then pick up injuries and knocks because their body hasn't had much of an opportunity to recover.

"What we will do is try and give them a bit of a break between now and the end of the season if the league is over with a few games to spare.

"But the challenge that lies ahead of us this summer is very difficult.

"Our first competitive game of the season is a qualifier and we are all well aware that your European season can be defined by those first two games.

"We coped well with it last year, but you just never know what the draw might throw up this time.

"Preparation for it is vital and we want to be able to look and start planning as early as we possibly can.

"The European campaign has been outstanding this season. We've all had a taste of it, we've all enjoyed it, but just staying in that kind of company is a real challenge.

"Although we want to keep players fresh and let some of the guys who have been involved in the vast majority of the games get a break, we also want to be involved in the Scottish Cup final.

"We wouldn't want anyone downing tools when we hope that they will be finishing the season off with a showcase final.

"Although we'll be mindful of not getting too far ahead of ourselves on that front."

Meanwhile, with the Celtic manager declaring himself satisfied with the consistency of a squad who have battled both on a domestic and a European front this season, he believes that he will have a number of contenders for player of the season in his ranks.

He was unwilling to single any of his players out, but Lennon does expect that there will be a fair few players at Lennoxtown who have a chance of being among the accolades come the end of the season.

"There are so many that have been outstanding for us this season; Fraser Forster, Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper has hit 24 goals, Charlie Mulgrew has had another great season and there really are four or five of our players who have not only been very consistent but who have achieved that while playing at a very high level," he said.

"I couldn't pick a single one out. So far as we are concerned, we're delighted with the way we're progressing and at a rate that we think is appropriate.

"The team is maturing and we've seen a lot this season so far to be pleased with."

Lennon's side can take another step towards that second successive title tomorrow night when they travel to Fir Park to take on Motherwell.

The Celtic boss is hoping that Greek internationalist Georgios Samaras will play some part in the game against the Lanarkshire side, with one eye on the striker being fit for the trip to Turin next week for the Champions League last 16 second leg.

LENNON said: "He won't start but over the next few games we'll definitely start to see a wee bit more of him as he is one that we would like to be ready for the game in Italy.

"It was good for us to give Tomas Rogic and Miku a run out at the weekend because they are fit.

"Whereas Sami has only been training for the last few days. He is a fit lad anyway, but we will get him some game time before now and the game against Juventus.

"We have missed him and it'll be good to get him back in."

Motherwell have been chasing down a second-place finish this term but have slipped up recently against Dundee United and Ross County in the last week.

However, Lennon expects Stuart McCall's men to be ready for tomorrow's game.

"Fir Park is traditionally a difficult ground for us to go to," he said. "Stuart's had a couple of bad results recently and I'm sure he'll have them up for it.

"They are always ready to give us a good game and I have to say that I still love night games when you are playing under the floodlights.

"I always think it gives it an extra bit of spice and they'll be looking forward to it as much as we are."

Whether Celtic are dancing in the dark or tripping the light fantastic, it's fair to say the end is at last in sight for the Hoops.

retail

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