Friday 30 September 2016

Playing Toure not a gamble, insists Rodgers

Jamie Holland

Published 03/08/2016 | 02:30

Defender Kolo Toure is set to make his Celtic debut against FC Astana in the Champions League tonight
Defender Kolo Toure is set to make his Celtic debut against FC Astana in the Champions League tonight

Kolo Toure is set to make his Celtic debut against FC Astana in the Champions League tonight, with manager Brendan Rodgers insisting starting the 35-year-old would not be a gamble.

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The former Arsenal and Manchester City defender teamed up with his former Liverpool boss last week but sat out the first leg of the third qualifying round tie in Kazakhstan, which ended 1-1, and last Saturday's 3-1 International Champions Cup defeat to Barcelona in Dublin as he worked on his fitness.

Rodgers is short on defenders, with Erik Sviatchenko still out with a groin strain and Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic both working their way back following respective hamstring and knee injuries.

That leaves Rodgers, who gave a European debut to 20-year-old Corkman Eoghan O'Connell alongside the much-criticised Efe Ambrose in the Astana Arena, short of central defensive options for the crunch game at Parkhead.

"Kolo will be in the squad," said the Hoops boss, who revealed Nir Bitton has had a scan on the ankle injury he picked up at the Aviva Stadium which will almost certainly rule him out.

On the brighter side, Stefan Johansen is back in the squad after missing the last two matches to be with his wife, who had a baby.

"Kolo has trained well since he has come in," said Rodgers. "We left him behind last weekend to continue with that and I am confident that he is ready to play a part.

Ready

"If I feel he can start in the game and he is ready, I will have no problem playing him.

"I wouldn't think it would be gamble He is super-experienced. We are just assessing fitness at the moment.

"Kolo has had a great impact already in the short period of time he has had here."

Celtic have failed to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League for the last two seasons and rectifying that was Rodgers' main remit on taking over from Ronny Deila.

The Northern Irishman insists he is keeping a clear head amid the "hysteria" which can surround Champions League qualifiers is key to achieving that goal.

"To qualify into the Champions League is a goal that we set at the start of the season but you have to stay calm," said the former Watford, Reading, Swansea and Liverpool manager.

"We have put in a lot of work and what gives us the confidence is that we are working relentlessly with the team as well as analysing the opponents.

"The players will be as well prepared as they possibly could be.

After a "resilient" performance in Astana, where the Hoops fought back from a goal down to level through Leigh Griffiths, the Celtic manager is looking for his side to finish the job off in front of what promises to be a big crowd.

"We are really looking forward to playing at home," he said.

"I have sensed in the few games that we have had there that the crowd have been brilliant for us and the players have responded to that.

"We showed a real doggedness last week to keep going and maybe by the end of the game we were unfortunate not to have won it.

"Now, we aim to show that it is our pitch and we have to own it from the start if we are to get the result that we all want."

Irish Independent

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