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One major absentee as Celtic prepare for flag day

Alistair Johnston was the only top team regular missing from Celtic’s final training session before the competitive action gets underway tomorrow at home to Ross County.

The weather seemed fairly pleasant as Brendan Rodgers watched his king sized squad go through their training drills and circuits ahead of Saturday’s lunch-time kick off.

Johnston’s current injury was picked up in an international against the USA at the end of June but probably dates back to a knee issue picked up in the Scottish Cup semi-final at the end of April.

There were doubts over whether the full-back would play again before the end of the season but he got just over an hour in the final league match of the season at home to Aberdeen then completed his medal collection with 90 minutes the following week against Inverness Caley Thistle back at Hampden.

Against Athletic Club of Bilbao on Tuesday Rodgers got to see 22 players get 45 minutes with the ‘B’ side putting on a better display in the second half than the expected first picks.

Three days earlier against Wolves fingers were crossed about the fitness of Liam Scales and Stephen Welsh as the hoops lined up without Carl Starfelt, Maik Nawrocki and Cameron Carter-Vickers.

Those three returned to get half a match against Athletic with two from that trio likely to get the nod to start the defence of the title against Malky Mackay’s side.

With Johnston missing and no real timeline for his return, Tony Ralston’s second half display against Athletic Bilbao was probably one of the most important take-aways from the match.

Despite starting the three previous matches at right-back Tomiki Iwata would probably be the first to admit that his career prospects at Celtic won’t be in defence.

The former Yokohama midfielder, in common with others, had a very difficult first 45 minutes. When Ralston replaced him his experience and awareness of the position was obvious with the visitors getting little change down their left flank.

Saturday’s Starting XI will come from those involved on Tuesday with probably three changes to the side that started the match.

Matt O’Riley, Ralston and Liel Abada can expect to replace Kwon Hyeok-kyu, Iwata and James Forrest as the champions get underway ahead of four other Premiership fixtures.

Seven years ago Rodgers had to negotiate three rounds of Champions League qualifiers as he took charge over from Ronny Deila. That obstacle has been removed but trips to Pittodrie and Ibrox in the first month will give the Irishman a good idea of where his side stands with the Champions League draw taking place on August 31.

The match away to Aberdeen will be somewhere in the thoughts of the manager as he picks his side for the SPFL opener.

‘Minutes in legs’ is a very popular phrase at this stage of the season that is exactly what central defenders need with all bar Starfelt missing a significant part of the pre-season preparations.

With no midweek matches until mid-September some very important sessions will  be taking place at Lennoxtown as Rodgers enacts the subtle changes from Angeball over to his way of playing.

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