JOZO SIMUNOVIC could miss the Premiership game against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park later this month – to make sure he is fit to face Astana in the Champions League second leg play-off a few days later.

Brendan Rodgers has hinted he won’t risk the defender, despite the fact he is the Hoops’ only recognised fit centre-half, with Dedryck Boyata and Erik Sviatchenko crocked.

Simunovic was nursed back to health last season after a knee injury kept him out for nine months.

And Rodgers is reluctant to risk the player on the Killie artificial pitch on August 19 followed by a crucial confrontation on a hybrid surface in Kazakhstan three days later.

He said: “We have to consider the load he has, but he’s much better and has gained more strength in his knee.

“He’s not an injury concern, but we have to monitor it especially when you look at playing Kilmarnock and Astana away on artificial pitches.

“Jozo is an inspirational young player. If the ball is in the box he’s normally got his head on it.

“He knows his lines of pass now. Once he’s a player who’s fit and in rhythm he is very good.”

Meanwhile, Simunovic insists the Hoops’ confidence is riding so high it didn’t matter who they drew in the Champions League play-off round.

He said: “We believe in ourselves and it doesn’t matter who comes when or wherever we go. We just want to play our game.

“We know we need to win if we want to get into the Champions League, so the goal is simple.”

Simunovic missed last year’s clash with Astana through injury as his team-mates squeezed through to the group stages on a 3-2 aggregate with Moussa Dembele netting a last-minute penalty-kick in Glasgow.

The classy back-four operator added: “This year is different. We are a better team now.”

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