CALLUM McGregor tops many statistics lists this season, for such skills as accurate passing and assists, but there is one number which more than any other highlights what he, and Celtic as a club, have to contend with, unlike many of their rivals.

Thursday’s Europa League match was the midfielder’s 39th of the season and yet there is still more than half a campaign to go. No sports scientist would say that so much football is good for even the most athletic of players.

Red Bull Salzburg are a better team than Celtic, but the Scottish champions would have been able to make more of a fist of the game in Glasgow on Thursday had they been fresher. Instead, they looked tired, both mentally and physically. They could not even celebrate progressing to the last 32 properly.

McGregor and the rest are rewarded handsomely but they are being forced to play too many games. Uefa should do something about it, but they won’t.

Celtic are at Easter Road today, then it is Motherwell on Wednesday, home to Dundee on Saturday, up to Aberdeen on Boxing Day before the Old Firm match at Ibrox on the 29th.

There are worse jobs than being a professional footballer but that is a ridiculous schedule and manager Brendan Rodgers acknowledged that the amount of games is catching up with his players.

“I’m sure we’ll get a good side in the draw and when that time comes in February we will be in a better place. We will be a bit fresher and hopefully back up to strength. The players have put in such a big effort. On Thursday night, I thought we were a bit tired looking at times.

“When you play against that level of opponent who are fast and quick, you have to be able to play through the pressure quickly. We just looked a fraction leggy and that’s because we have put so much in. We have played a season’s worth of games and we are not even at the halfway point. The players deserve all the credit.

“You can understand why they are a bit leggy but it also shows the character of the squad. They kept going. When they are pushed they keep going and it’s an absolutely brilliant achievement for them to get through.”

It is the first time in the Champions League era that a club from one of the top five nations in Europe – England, Spain, Italy and France being the others – have been eliminated by the Parkhead side. This is a terrific achievement, it helps with the co-efficient ranking and gives Celtic at least one more crack at what is likely to be a big name.

European football is set up to give Uefa’s favourites every advantage over clubs from smaller countries. Celtic’s second-place finish would have been welcomed by their counterparts of similar size.

Rodgers said: “It just shows you how difficult it is to do, coming from a country like ourselves and the league we are in. Leipzig had been above Bayern Munich in the table so it shows that we have been absolutely brilliant.

“Who we get next doesn’t matter. They will be brilliant nights and it’s exciting. We are in the draw so we’ll see what it brings. It’s great for Scottish football, great for us and the staff.

“Year on year we are achieving different things in Europe. I think every-one looked at this group and saw it as tough and we’ve come through it. To finish with nine points over the course of the six games – we played some really good games, some not so good. We are certainly not perfect but we are improving and the guys are getting experience. Now, can we go a stage better than last year?

“But to get out of this group was a big achievement. We want as many Scottish clubs as we can in European football. Thankfully we have gone through and we are representing the nation as well as ourselves. We are very proud to do that and we will give our best.”

This might not go down well with some supporters but a second-place finish in the Europa League group is as good as Celtic can do right now. That is not to say this team aren’t capable of more, but this is a tough environment. Any success must be saluted.

“The main thing was just to get through,” said Kristoffer Ajer who made his return from injury against Salzburg. “We had some really good performances in our six games. Our main objective was to have European football after Christmas so to achieve that is brilliant. We’ve won the League Cup already too which was important for us so we just have to stay really focused as it’s still a really busy schedule in December.

“When you play for Celtic you always want to be at the highest level possible but when we came in to the Europa League and saw the group we understood it would be really tough. We’ve had a lot of hard games so to make it through, we have to be really happy about that.”

Rodgers had a whole two days to get his team ready to face Hibs in Leith this afternoon, one of the more difficult games in the league.

“It’s tough but it’s that way because we have been successful,” he said. “That’s the way you want it to be and we just have to try to recover the players as fast as we can and get them as fresh as we can. Easter Road is a notoriously difficult place to go. They had their first win for a long time last week. We will be ready for a tough game.”

They have no choice.