BETWEEN now and Christmas, Celtic face a tough slog of eight games – the final two Champions League group stage ties and six Scottish Premiership matches.

After being handed an early league schedule that included trips to Hearts, Rangers, Hibs, Ross County, Motherwell, Aberdeen and Livingston, the upcoming fixtures, on paper at least, should make for a more comfortable run. 

First up on Saturday it’s Motherwell at Celtic Park (kick-off 3pm).

Stuart Kettlewell’s side aren’t in good form – without a league win in their last nine games and just two points off the bottom of the table.

In their previous clash with the Hoops, at the end of September, a whole heap of drama was crammed into the last eight minutes, starting with Luis Palma opening his account for the Bhoys.

Then, five minutes into stoppage time, Blair Spittal thought he had salvaged a draw after he brought the ball onto his right foot and drilled a shot into the corner to send the Fir Park crowd wild.

But Matt O’Riley would have the final say in the dying seconds as he got on the end of a Greg Taylor cross to seal the three points.

The Steelmen have never really recovered from this and at the moment are playing like contenders for the drop. Of course, the Hoops must be wary of complacency, but I anticipate a routine afternoon.

And with the final international break of the year behind us, with the exception of Palma, it appears that Celtic have managed to come through it unscathed.

According to Honduras gaffer Reinildo Rueda, the in-form winger picked up a knock in training, but he played down the severity, describing it as “small”.

Regardless, this will be the last thing that Brendan Rodgers will want to hear, given that Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Liel Abada are still on the Parkhead treatment table and aren’t due back until next month at the earliest.

Palma has been the standout signing from the underwhelming summer transfer window, scoring four goals and assisting five in eight league appearances, as well as finding the back of the net against Atletico in the Champions League. 

The 23-year-old may not be blessed with blistering pace, but he has a gifted footballing brain, an eye for a pass and a shot that rivals any other player in Scotland. Because of the injury to so many wingers, some supporters have floated the idea of deploying him behind the forwards in a diamond formation, which would certainly be interesting.

Rodgers shouldn’t stick so rigidly to the 4-3-3 shape, especially if the remaining wide men are James Forrest and Mikey Johnston.

Unfortunately, though, these two are likely to feature in Rome against Lazio next Tuesday due to those who are unavailable.

Granted, last time out in the Olimpico it was Forrest who equalised after Ciro Immobile put the Italians ahead, but bear in mind that this was over four years ago. Jamesy just isn’t that player anymore, while Johnston has flattered to deceive on far too many occasions.

I understand that may be a bit harsh, and some could point to Liam Scales as the perfect example of salvaging a Celtic career when it appeared all was lost, but Johnston has had his opportunities and is also too injury-prone.

He’s 24, so in footballing terms is no longer a youngster, and would benefit from another loan – he played nearly 30 games at Vitória de Guimarães last season – or a permanent move away from Glasgow. 

January isn’t far away, and attention will soon shift to head of recruitment Mark Lawwell in a bid to trim the fat of this bloated squad.

The gaffer has acknowledged that it’s too big, and the fact that so many are surplus to requirements is proof of how a scattergun approach to the market ultimately leaves Celtic in a position where players are draining wages from the club.

Here’s who I would turf out: Mikey Johnston, Nat Phillips, James McCarthy, Yuki Kobayashi, Kwon Hyeok-kyu, Alexandro Bernabei and   Benjamin Siegrist. 

Quality must be prioritised over quantity. Instead of signing six players in the £1-2.5m range, efforts should be concentrated on bringing in two or three at higher fees.

I’m aware that forking out more cash doesn’t mean guaranteed success, but it’s time to take things up a level.

But is this feeling echoed in the higher echelons of Celtic? This week’s column will be a tad early for Wednesday’s AGM, but, as usual, don’t expect the board to face too much of a grilling.

The situation with the Green Brigade and someone reading out a poem about what Celtic “means to them” will dominate proceedings.

It’s likely that no real change is coming any time soon and that’s just the way those in charge want it to be.

Peter Lawwell, his son, and the rest, dance to Dermot Desmond’s tune and how he wants the club to be run. Dominate domestically, take hammerings in Europe and collect your cheque at the end. Round and round we go.