Sunday 18 November 2018

Cruise control on home front keeps Rodgers bullish about crashes in Europe

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Roddy Forsyth

In other circumstances, it would be no revelation if Celtic exhibited the symptoms of shell shock as a consequence of their European expeditions.

In the space of 15 months, they have endured defeat by the most minuscule opponents they have faced at this level (Lincoln Red Imps), along with their worst European loss (a 7-0 drubbing by Barcelona in the Nou Camp) and their heaviest home reverse (a 5-0 beating by Paris Saint-Germain).

Their latest pounding was administered by Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena, where the 3-0 score belied a contest that easily could have finished with the Bundesliga side scoring six.

Brendan Rodgers and his players, however, are able to sustain such wounds without the legacy of disfiguring scar tissue because of their bipolar existence.

If they prevail against Hibernian in the Scottish League Cup semi-final at Hampden Park tomorrow, the Hoops will record their 60th successive unbeaten domestic fixture - a sequence that has included half-a-dozen wins over Rangers, including two 5-1 drubbings, the second of which set a record for a Celtic victory at Ibrox.

The accumulation of home comforts includes the three Scottish honours but, despite total command of their native domain, Celtic are cast in the role of impoverished neighbours compared to Champions League powers such as Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich.

It is not impossible for them to get beyond the group stage - as Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon proved during their time in charge in the east end of Glasgow - but the chances of a repeat grow slimmer with every transfer deal priced in hundreds of millions amongst the bloated 'big five' nations.

So it was that, while their heroes were chasing shadows against Bayern, the Celtic supporters kept up a constant stream of choruses in their lofty perch at the Allianz Arena. They were celebrating the simple fact of being present, events on the field notwithstanding.

Rodgers, meanwhile, has a refrain of his own, to the effect that his squad are in a constant process of development.

The evidence in his favour is that, after the competitive hiatus under his predecessor, Ronny Deila, the Ulsterman has twice successfully steered his men through half-a-dozen hazardous qualifiers and, thanks to a merited 3-0 victory over Anderlecht in Brussels, Celtic are favourites to secure third spot in Group B and a place in the Europa League, where the demands are likely to be more congenial.

It was this context which allowed Rodgers to be bullish in the aftermath of Wednesday's defeat, despite the decision not to alter his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, even when it meant a match-up with a Bayern side who were better equipped in every position.

The concession of three cheap goals and the narrow avoidance of greater damage prompted charges of naivety or presumption directed towards Rodgers, but his retort was that his defenders were below par and that, if defeat was always the probable outcome, he would rather supervise an expansive game than a protective huddle.

"I'd rather lose playing how we want to play and how we want to work, as opposed to sit in and defending for 90 minutes and still lose if that's the case," he said.

Rodgers bridled somewhat when it was suggested that he could have been more pragmatic.

"There was nothing about being pragmatic for the goals we conceded. We didn't defend our box well enough from crosses coming in - we can do better with those," he said.

Celtic's destiny in the group is unlikely to be affected by Bayern's Halloween visit to Glasgow, but they will be expected to make a better fist of it on their own turf.

Asked if he believed that he and his team-mates had the capacity to hurt Jupp Heynckes' players at home, goalkeeper Craig Gordon said: "We are going to try but it is a big task. They have got some world-class players. There are better teams than us who will be beaten 3-0 in Munich." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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