He has been the constant in an otherwise fluctuating Celtic back four, one Carl Starfelt suspects is settling once more just in time for the Scottish Cup final.

The loss of Cameron Carter-Vickers from the moment the Premiership title was wrapped up, plus an injury lay-off for Alistair Johnston, forced Ange Postecoglou into some tinkering for his team’s remaining league matches.

Anthony Ralston came in at right-back, while Alexandro Bernabei deputised for Greg Taylor at points. Starfelt, meanwhile, has lined up alongside Yuki Kobayashi and Tomoki Iwata in Carter-Vickers’ absence.

Postecoglou himself admitted that the rotation wasn’t doing his team any favours as they turned uncharacteristically leaky, albeit in a run of four ultimately meaningless matches. But with Inverness Caledonian Thistle and the prospect of the treble awaiting at Hampden on Saturday, some tightening up was required.

A defensive line of Johnston, Iwata, Starfelt and Taylor shut Aberdeen out with ease in Saturday’s 5-0 win, which may just make up the manager’s mind as it drifts towards selecting a side to step out at the national stadium. Starfelt feels a period of adjustment without such a significant presence in Carter-Vickers was to be expected, but insists Celtic have now re-established momentum at just the right moment.

“No matter who is coming in, you have to build a new relationship when new players come in,” the centre-back said. “There have been a lot of changes and in these five games I’m probably the only one who has played a lot of football over the last months.

“Of course it is a bit harder and it can take some time, but we have made these kind of changes in the first part of the season especially and dealt with it really well and kept winning games.

“It was just about trying to work really hard, win the duels, and try to shift the momentum a little bit to get some wind in the sails again.

“That’s important for us with the cup final coming up.

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“It is not so much about guiding other players, it’s doing little things to try to help them and especially form a relationship and an understanding of each other on the pitch.

“When you go out there on the pitch of course you want to be one unit but also every person has to really dig within themselves to get a performance. Everyone needs to perform on the day.”

Stepping for Carter-Vickers is a considerable ask for any defender, and Kobayashi has endured a baptism of fire in that regard. Still just 22, the Japanese centre-back looks to be in an adjustment period with the pace and physicality of the Premiership.

But Starfelt knows better than most how snap judgements can be unwise. The Swede was flung straight into the heat of Tynecastle for a difficult debut following 10 days of isolation back in 2021.

First impressions can be hard to escape at a club like Celtic and there were plenty for whom the jury remained out on the 28-year-old in the following months. But his performances, this term especially, have been largely impressive and even culminated in Starfelt signing off league duty with a rare goal at the weekend. He is living proof that a shaky start need not cause lasting damage.

“I think all the players need to have a little bit of that mindset,” Starfelt said. “We touch on that within the group, to keep everything within the group and not be disturbed noise…what fans think or what the media think, or says.

“To really listen to each other in here, listen to the manager and the other players, and maybe your family and people who really care about you. Other than that, you don’t need to listen to anyone. All the players in the team know their potential as footballers.

“It is obviously not very easy at a club like Celtic; it can be a lot. But the thing is if you manage to do it you can get better from it as well. Become psychologically stronger through staying strong in adversity, in these situations. But it almost sounds now as if our season has been sh*t!”

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His own experience is perhaps why Starfelt is particularly keen to ensure he supports Kobayashi, and anyone else taking their first steps in a Celtic jersey.

“Of course, I am trying to help in the best way I can,” he said. “I’m sure everyone on the pitch is doing the same. I will of course try to speak to him and help him, as I will do with all the other players.

“I think he is really tidy on the ball and he is a good defender as well. It is not fair to only judge someone based on three games where the team haven’t been playing good. You can’t look only at these three games and judge someone because then all of the 11 players on the pitch would be bad players. It is not as easy as that.

“Also, the games he has played before he has shown himself to be really good on the ball and a good defender as well. I have to keep on building a relationship with him because he has good qualities that hopefully he will show more of in the future.”

For the past few months, it appears there was a blanket ban within the Celtic dressing over the merest mention of a clean sweep while there was other business to be taken care of. But now, with the Scottish Cup the only thing standing between them and a clean sweep, Starfelt and his team-mates can begin to contemplate the prospect of a writing their names into the history books.

“It would be very special,” he admitted. “It is not easy. You can see that has not been done very often in the past that it is not an easy thing to do. It’s three trophies we need to compete in domestically so to win all of them would be a huge thing.

“I think everyone is really going to give everything to win this cup final and bring this treble home. We have won two titles and have the chance to win the treble. It has been an amazing season but we just need to make sure we finish it off in a good way.”