Motherwell and Celtic have three things in common this summer; both are preparing for European football, both have spent their preseason in Austria, and both squads have spent any time not training, fixed on Love Island…

Sky Sports News reporter Mark Benstead spent this week with the two squads trying to get an idea of how they are shaping up ahead of the new campaign. His first stop was with Motherwell up in the north of the country.

“A coffee shop, a lake that’s pretty much it…”. Half a sentence from their manager Graham Alexander, two answers into his first interview pretty much summed up why he’d chosen to fly his squad to Obertraun for this summer’s preseason.

The popular skiing resort is an hour and a bit from Salzburg and over three hours to Vienna. During the summer it offers little in the way of distraction, which is perfect if you want a group of young footballers focused on football, and little else.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Motherwell boss Graham Alexander discusses pre-season preparations in Austria and looks ahead to the new campaign.

The squad have been worked hard while here, 6am alarm calls are quickly followed by 6k runs through the forests. That’s all before double training sessions most days, which are then topped off with mother nature’s version of the modern-day ice bath; a dip in the local rivers or – Hallstätter See, the lake at the centre of the town.

Plenty of commitment from them then, and plenty of bravery too it turns out. The lads spotted a water snake (they have the video evidence) joining them for one of their swims, yet they’ve soldiered on and returned to the water each day. That kind of bravery can carry you far in a season!

Speaking to the manager I think two things are clear. First and foremost he’s glad to be having a quieter transfer window. There has been a lot of chopping and changing of the Motherwell squad in recent years; this summer just two new faces have been brought in – Paul McGinn, and Blair Spittal. He still hopes to add a couple more, but overall he is happy that his group has a more consistent look to it. He can build on the positives of last season, rather than be forced to start from scratch.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Ricki Lamie opens up on his decision to stay at Motherwell despite agreeing a deal at Dundee and takes a big dive into a lake!

The second thing that’s clear is that he is under no illusion how hard it will be to replicate last season’s achievements. The club’s ability to overachieve over the course of the last decade sometimes means people forget the parameters they work within. To finish fifth and earn a European place is above what the club should expect to achieve, at least in terms of budget.

That isn’t to say the squad don’t think there are things they can improve on. I got the chance to take a cycle around town with ‘keeper Liam Kelly and he knows the performances, especially towards the end of last season could have been better, but his view was a pretty sensible one, “we finished fifth and know there’s still plenty of room to improve, that’s better than finishing ninth or 10th.” He has a point.

No change for Postecoglou’s Celtic

From Motherwell’s mountain base it was a trip down the A2 autobahn to Celtic, at their camp at Bad Erlach. Their plan for the week a mix of training, and pre-season matches. Similar to Motherwell there’s a degree of consistency about their squad.

So far the summer has been as much about retaining players – Jota and Cameron Carter-Vickers – as it has about adding new faces (albeit there have been a couple in the shape of Ben Siegrist and Alexandro Bernabei). The biggest change for Ange Postecoglou as he prepares for his second season in charge of the team, is that he is actually getting time on the training ground to work with his players.

Please use Chrome browser for a more accessible video player

Celtic captain Callum McGregor looks ahead to the challenge of retaining the Scottish Premiership title and reveals Love Island is taking centre stage during pre-season!

Last season he had next to no time with the group as a whole, as he was juggling bringing in a dozen new faces and the restrictions of Covid. This time he is getting that time with the squad, and you can tell he’s enjoying that. I stood and watched one of the training sessions, and it was Ange who oversaw the first drill.

It was based around moving the ball quickly, and building attacks. Crucially the ball was always in play. As soon as it went out or in the net another was rolled back in and the players went again. He wants his teams to be sharper as they attack, and that in part comes from making them fitter.

His team had a useful knack of scoring late goals last season (Ross County away, Dundee Utd at home spring to mind), it’s slightly ominous for the other sides to think they might very well be in even better shape going into this season, and able to push harder for longer.

There has been a noticeable addition to the Celtic backroom staff recently, Harry Kewell is now on the coaching team. The former Leeds Utd and Liverpool winger played in two Champions League finals, so it’s fair to say he has invaluable experience to impart on the squad, but he also brings a freshen to things according to his boss.

As Postecoglou told me, “if players come in and see no change, I don’t think that sends the right message.” New faces on and off the field can make a difference, and the appointment of Kewell is certainly an interesting one.

Image: Harry Kewell has joined Celtic’s backroom staff

There are a couple of players here in Austria with question marks against their names heading into the new campaign. Albian Ajeti is here but it seems almost certain he will move on if a deal can be found. The Swiss striker played 17 times last season, with the most recent in December, it is fair to say he is well down the pecking order.

Christopher Jullien is perhaps the one facing the most uncertain next few weeks. He looked to be leaving Glasgow but a move to Germany collapsed, and with fellow defender Carl Starfelt returning from injury and touch and go to be fit for the start of the season, could he now have a future at the club?

The odds are he will still leave but he has featured in pre-season and you just wonder if things could change if he plays well and can play in the manner Ange wants from his centre-backs.

Like Graham Alexander, Postecoglou would still like to add to his pool of players and in midfield in particular given the loss of Nir Bitton and Tom Rogic. However one of his most potentially important figures is already in place in the engine room of his team, in the shape of skipper Callum McGregor.

Ange Postecoglou says Carter-Vickers was 'vital' in helping Celtic win the league title

Image: Ange Postecoglou wants more Celtic signings to his squad

He played 63 games for club and country last season and he will be pivotal for Celtic again this season. At the moment he’s juggling his role driving the squad on in training alongside that of social convener off it. As is the case up the road with Motherwell, Love Island is the chosen post training entertainment of preseason.

What fascinates me is that McGregor says it isn’t just the local lads who are picking that as their evening viewing, even the overseas boys are now getting involved. I do wonder what Jota, Kyogo and co make of Casa Amor… but if it builds team spirit, who am I to argue?