Anthony Ralston knows automatic European qualification is key to Celtic’s plans

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Anthony Ralston has highlighted the “brilliant” benefits of automatic Champions League qualification amid Celtic’s stress-free pre-season preparations.

July and August have often seen the Hoops – who have won 10 of the last 11 cinch Premiership titles – involved in the first crucial European qualifiers in recent years with a team still preparing.

However, last season’s league win coupled with Scotland’s improved coefficient means Celtic enter directly into the group stages of the 2022/23 Champions League, which begins in September.

Boss Ange Postecoglou has been able to plan a pre-season schedule which includes six friendlies in preparation for the start of the league campaign at the end of the month.

Ahead of the challenge match against Blackburn at Celtic Park on Saturday, Scotland full-back Ralston confirmed better preparedness for the challenges ahead.

He said: “It’s a good change to be able to have more training sessions under our belt, get together as a team, organize the friendlies and focus on the start of the league campaign.

“Rather than playing the qualifiers, the automatic qualifiers are awesome.

“We’ve all had good training under our belts, a few games now, a few more games and we’re all well placed, we’re all in good shape.

“We still have a way to go but we want to keep improving and not just now, the start of the season as well. We are all looking forward to it.

“That’s where you want to play your football, at the highest level, which is the Champions League.

“We will all have a role to play in terms of the training ground and also in terms of matches.

“So we need everyone to be ready and fit and I’m sure we will be.”

Celtic won the title and the Premier Sports Cup in Postecoglou’s first season as boss.

Ralston is “definitely” aiming for improvement and thinks Hoops fans should be excited about the new campaign.

He said: “We did what we did last season, we hit some good heights but it’s important that we improve again and as a collective that’s what we aim to do.

“We are in a good position, we have had good training and good games under our belt, but at the start of the season we not only want to do what we did last season, but also improve on it.

“They (the fans) should definitely be excited to start, we all are.

“We had a great season together last season and we are looking for the same.

“But it’s behind us, what’s done is done, we’re ready to start a new chapter.”

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