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Feb 9, 2013

Celtic to rest players ahead of Juve clash

Neil Lennon will send a makeshift side into Celtic's top-of-the-table clash with Inverness as he prepares for the "biggest game" of his managerial career against Juventus on Tuesday.

• Pirlo ready for Celtic test

Celtic's fringe players will be handed a chance to impress on Saturday, while the club's biggest names are rested to ensure the strongest squad is available when the Hoops host Juve in the Champions League.

His side's 15-point lead over second-placed Inverness made the decision much easier for Lennon, although he admits the league was always going to play second fiddle to European football.

"It is a balancing act but I will make changes," he said. "I have got Juventus in mind. It is the biggest game we have had here since Gordon Strachan's time and the biggest game of some of the players' career, and certainly my managerial career.

"I don't want to take too many chances tomorrow. We have got a cushion but that is no guarantee you are going to win the league and it is not the reason I am making changes. If the gap was three points, I would probably still do it and take the gamble."

Juventus can ill afford to take the chance of resting players, with their mere three-point lead atop the Serie A in danger of being cut down should the Old Lady fail to beat Fiorentina on Saturday.

Celtic grabbed the famous scalp of Barcelona in the Champions League group stages, although Lennon believes complacency will not be an issue as his side prepares for a new challenge.

"Juventus are a formidable team, a daunting prospect, but I think the players have been looking at this game for quite a while and I am looking for a big night from them," Lennon said. "We have been overdosing on them the last few weeks in terms of DVD analysis.

"Juventus and Barcelona are two different sides, two different mentalities. I think Juventus are more pragmatic. Barcelona do a lot of things off the cuff because they are so good.

"Juventus are very rigid in their formation, three at the back, one sitting and two wing-backs getting forward. They are a little bit more defensive-minded than Barcelona and they will be very difficult to break down although they probably don't have the flair or quality in forward areas than Barcelona."

Celtic have been boosted by the return of goalkeeper Fraser Forster, who was vital in the win over Barca, from a neck injury, although James Forrest, Georgios Samaras (both hamstring) and Emilio Izaguirre (knee) are all in doubt through injury and Efe Ambrose is away on African Nations Cup duty with Nigeria.

"We have no fresh injury worries from the international games but James has had two scans this week, the first one was all clear so we are waiting on the results of the second one," Lennon said. "We are hoping if we get the all-clear he will be in the squad for Tuesday night.

"We are going to leave it as late as possible with Georgios and Emilio. It is 50-50 at the minute. Emilio has probably got a better chance than Samaras although they have worked very hard this week and we have been very aggressive with their rehabilitation."

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