BRENDAN Rodgers will get preparations for next season’s Champions League qualifiers underway after the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final later this month by giving his key Celtic players time off.

The Scottish champions, who will win their sixth consecutive title if they beat Hearts at Tynecastle tomorrow, are undefeated in 36 domestic fixtures and have the chance to create history by going unbeaten for the entire 2016/17 campaign.

But Rodgers is confident his team can maintain their run using fringe players and will have no qualms giving the likes of Stuart Armstrong, Scott Brown, Craig Gordon, Mikael Lustig, Scott Sinclair and Kieran Tierney a break after they play Rangers at Hampden on April 23.

The Northern Irishman is prepared to rest his most influential first team members - even though the Parkhead club will take on their city rivals at Ibrox in the first game after the top six split on April 29.

No fewer than six Celtic players started for Scotland in their 1-0 victory over Slovenia at Hampden on Sunday and should, if fit, be involved in the Russia 2018 qualifier against England on June 10.

Rodgers is already thinking about his charges being in peak condition for the first leg of the Champions League second qualifying round on either July 11 or 12.

“We need to see when we can give them rest,” he said. “It won’t be in the next month. We won’t have any rest over that period. But after that we may be able to have a look at it.

“It won’t happen pre-semi-final because you are in danger of breaking rhythm. For a football player you need to be in rhythm, you need to play. It’s a big game (the semi-final) for us. Take them out of that and they lose rhythm and actually in some way lose fitness.

“There would be quite a few I would have a look at, not just the Scotland players. My duty is to the whole squad. I feel I have a big enough squad to cope with that.”

Rodgers added: “It’s (the unbeaten run) not a big priority for me. My priority is to finish the season as strongly as we can. But I made eight changes away at Ross County and we won and that showed the trust I have in the group.

“But I have to look after the welfare of the players. That is important. That is what I’ve always done because I have to manage forward if we are going to go into the Champions League qualifiers.”

Meanwhile, Rodgers, who has given Brown his blessing to play for his country in the Group F match against England, has revealed that he approached his captain to speak about the issue.

“I asked to speak to him on it,” he said. “I don’t know if he wanted to talk to me or not. But I wanted to remove any sort of burden that might have been on his mind, to make sure he was fine. We had a good chat, which will be private, and on one or two other things within that.

“But it’s a big game, this, and it could be a real defining game. If he’s played in the England game away and he’s played in the last one it’s difficult not to play in the other ones. It’s about helping him, giving him the confidence that ‘okay, play in it, but this is how it’s going to look before and after’.”

Meanwhile, Rodgers has admitted that Armstrong, who made his Scotland debut at the weekend, is capable of playing in the Premier League in England in future. However, he is hopeful the 24-year-old will agree to a new contract even though he has 18 months of his current deal to run.

“He needs to be here for the next couple of years, developing and improving, getting confidence at the highest level he can and keeping consistent with it,” he said.

“Then like some of the other players, there may well be a time for him where, naturally, there is bigger money and bigger possibilities. He won’t go to a bigger club, that’s for sure. But, financially, the game can be much better for him somewhere else.

“I think he’s a really intelligent fella and if he is guided well behind that, he should see that. It wasn’t so long ago he was suffering here. It was difficult for him, so now we have built that confidence up for him, he’s playing the game to a very good level.

“There are still areas he can be better, but there is no doubt he’s a big talent and one I think who will demonstrate that over the coming years.”