CAMERON CARTER-VICKERS is ahead of schedule as he prepares to make his return.

The USA World Cup centre-back missed the last six games of the season – including the treble-sealing Scottish Cup Final triumph – after undergoing knee surgery.

Carter-Vickers, the rock in the Hoops rearguard, bowed out of the action after a Man-of-the-Match performance in the 1-0 semi-final victory over Michael Beale’s side to set up the Hampden showpiece with Inverness Caley Thistle last month.

REARGUARD ACTION…Cameron Carter-Vickers is in the thick of it as Joe Hart punches clear from Ibrox duo Alfredo Morelos and Connor Goldson in Celtic’s 1-0 Scottish Cup semi-final win on April 30. 

It was anticipated that the 25-year-old defender would be out until near the end of next month, but it has now been suggested he could be in his regular position for the Premiership kick-off against Ross County on Flag Day at Parkhead on Saturday August 5.

Brendan Rodgers was delighted the reliable back-four operator, bought just over a year ago from Spurs for £6million following an impressive loan season, hooked up with his team-mates as the squad flew out to their pre-season training camp in Portugal.

Carter-Vickers’ importance and influence were highlighted in his absence with Ange Postecoglou forced to give the main defensive role to Carl Starfelt with Tomoki Iwata, a converted midfielder, playing alongside him in the closing stges of the campaign.

Yuki Kobayashi, signed in January from Vissel Kobe, had been exposed as being vulnerable in the loss at Ibrox and dropped to the substitute bench for the remaining four encounters.

While the Southend-born USA international was forced onto the sidelines, the champions conceded 10 goals in six games.

With Carter-Vickers in position, the Hoops lost one goal in the first six matches of the term.

I’M IN CHARGE…Cameron Carter-Vickers towers over Alfredo Morelos in the Hampden clash in April – the Celt’s final game of the season.

From today, Rodgers has the opportunity to assess his entire pool of players with the international stars such as Callum McGregor and the Japanese trio of Kyogo Furuhashi, Daizen Maeda and Reo Hatate joining their colleagues in the Algarve.

The returning manager spent last week putting his available staff plus the youth prospects through their paces at Lennoxtown and admitted he was happily surprised by first impressions.

Rodgers, speaking to Celtic TV, said: “Normally, now in the modern game, very rarely do you get your players back at the one time. So, that always gives you a chance to see the young players and I’ve got to say I’ve been really impressed with, both the established guys in the first-team squad.

“They’ve been excellent, their attitude is outstanding and they’ve come back in really, really good condition. That gives us the chance to really build on that.

“Of course, a lot of them I haven’t known and they’ve been pleasantly surprising and really, really good.

“Sometimes a young player can come in and suffer with the intensity of training with the first team, but they’ve all coped really, really well and that’s been pleasing.”

The hard work starts today and Carter-Vickers and Co are eager to get back into the swing of things.

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