Sunday 22 July 2018

Rodgers backs O'Connell to solve defensive crisis

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers Picture: PA
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers Picture: PA

Brendan Rodgers has played down his central defensive problems ahead of Celtic's Champions League third round qualifier against Astana tonight.

Danish defender Erik Sviatchenko did not travel to Kazakhstan after picking up a groin injury last Friday, while 18-year-old Kristoffer Ajer is out with a hand issue.

The Hoops boss was already without long-term injured centre-backs Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata, while new signing Kolo Toure remained in Glasgow to catch up on his fitness.

The maligned Efe Ambrose and 20-year-old Corkman Eoghan O'Connell, who scored against Leicester in the International Champions Cup at the weekend but who has yet to play in Europe, are the only two centre-backs available, although Sweden full-back Mikael Lustig can also play there.

Despite the shortage at the centre of his backline, Rodgers remained calm.

"In these games it is always going to be the case of doing the very best that we could with the limited time and numbers that we have," said the former Liverpool manager, who revealed that midfielder Stefan Johansen did not travel due to personal reasons.

"Both players (Ambrose and O'Connell) have worked very well. In particular, young Eoghan, I have been really impressed with him over pre-season.

"He is a good size, first and foremost he wants to defend and he is good in the air. He has been in and around the first team for a few years now.

"He was up against tough opponents at the weekend, and I thought Eoghan coped very well, the speed of their team.

"He has a brain for football, he understands the game very well for a young player and he plays the game well.

"For a young player, if they show those qualities and professionalism I never have any fears of putting him in.

"In terms of Efe, he knows that if he can cut out mistakes that he makes in games, then you have a very good player because physically he is very strong, very fast, good in the air."

Astana v Celtic, Live, Eirsport 2, 3.00pm

Irish Independent

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