Sunday 30 April 2017

Rodgers vows to keep Celtic on treadmill even after title is secured

Brendan Rodgers: Cusp of title Photo: Getty
Brendan Rodgers: Cusp of title Photo: Getty

Roddy Forsyth

There will be no rest for Celtic's weary players until after their double header against Rangers in the final Old Firm league derby of the season and the Scottish Cup semi-final at the end of April.

The Scottish Premier Football League have revealed that the Scottish Premiership collision between the pair at Ibrox will kick off at noon on Saturday, April 29, six days after the pair meet at Hampden in the cup.

Last Sunday Celtic provided half of the Scotland team who kept the Tartan Army's hopes of World Cup qualification alive with a 1-0 win over Slovenia, a victory which Hoops manager Brendan Rodgers, partly attributed to the rest period afforded by the winter shutdown.

"It is an absolute bonus and so important that you have the mid-season break," said Rodgers, who can secure the league title in his first season with a win over Hearts tomorrow.

"If there is ever need for a cause for having it that is the proof of it. Imagine we never had that. "A break won't be in the next month. We won't have any rest over that period, but after that we may be able to have a look at it."

The Parkhead contingent in Gordon Strachan's squad would all be automatic selections for the vital qualifier against England at Hampden on June 10. Rodgers confirmed that he would discuss their availability with Strachan over the next few weeks.

"There will be some dialogue I am sure," he said. "I am proud that so many players were in the Scotland team.

"I am not going to stop any player playing for his country. Thankfully, all the Scottish boys here love playing for their country and want to go.

"My responsibility is for Celtic. I need to make sure that their availability is right for us, but I respect that these guys are international players."

Of Scott Brown, who retired from international football at the start of the season but returned to play for his country during the qualifiers - and has yet to reveal his intentions in respect of the clash with England - Rodgers said: "We had a good chat, which will be private, but it's a big game, this, and it could be a real defining game.

"If he's played against England away and he's played against Slovenia it's difficult not to play in the other ones. It's about helping him, giving him the confidence that is OK to play in it, but this is how it's going to look before and after."

Any temptation to let his players have some immediate time off has been stymied by the relentless timetable of the fixture list.

"We have got Hearts on Sunday and Partick Thistle during the week," said Rodger. "Say they played against Partick and then you maybe gave them a rest for Kilmarnock and Ross County, thinking you are doing them a favour. You have then got the Rangers games after that. The timeline is too great."

More immediately, wear and tear has deprived Rodgers of his two strikers at Tynecastle. Moussa Dembélé was injured against Dundee two weeks ago and Leigh Griffiths suffered a back injury while leading the Scottish line against Slovenia.

"Leigh did well in the Scotland game so getting the wee knock was frustrating for him, but hopefully within the next week he will be back. Moussa should be OK for next week," said the manager.

In their absence, Scott Sinclair could feature as the spearhead at Tynecastle.

"It is a possibility," said Rodgers. "When he first came in to me at Chelsea he was a striker. In the youth team, we played a diamond and he played as one of two front players." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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