Brendan Rodgers says ‘anything is possible’ for Celtic in Champions League

By Sports Desk September 18, 2023

Brendan Rodgers has stressed that Celtic’s unbreakable spirit can help them defy the odds in the Champions League.

Rodgers admitted his side have not been at their best so far this season and they have ongoing issues in central defence ahead of Tuesday’s Group E opener against Feyenoord in Rotterdam.

Nat Phillips is a doubt with an ankle issue, while Cameron Carter-Vickers, Maik Nawrocki and Stephen Welsh are all ruled out, leaving Liam Scales and recent signing Gustaf Lagerbielke as the only two definite options for Rodgers.

Celtic are the group outsiders behind Atletico Madrid, Lazio and the Dutch champions but Rodgers is targeting progression of some sort and possibly in the Champions League.

“I think success for us as a club is to be in Europe after Christmas,” he said. “That is what our aim is. Whatever competition that is in, as long as we are in Europe after Christmas, that is our aim.

“But anything is possible in the group. We look to be competitive in all the games.

“I think it’s one where anything is possible.

“People ask you to forecast what it is you want to do and what you want to achieve but I think that how we want the play the game with our competitive spirit, that’s important in the Champions League because you are playing against top teams.

“We have seen already this season that the spirit of this team will never be broken.

“You have to have that at this level when you are a team like ourselves coming into it, when people want to dismiss you in the tournament.

“It’s about being competitive, you have to work very hard, you have to work very smart, and let’s see where it takes us.”

Rodgers was not one to play defensively in Europe in his first spell as Celtic manager and predecessor Ange Postecoglou did not compromise any of his attacking principles last season as Celtic collected two points from a group campaign that promised more.

When asked whether he would adapt on European nights this season, the former Leicester manager said: “We are not at peak Celtic, I would say.

“We have got a long way to go before I think we will be where I am happy where I want us to be.

“However, what the players have shown is that flexibility.

“In terms of style, I don’t think there is a massive difference in terms of how the players have been asked to work. I just think it takes time and understanding for that to grow, and obviously of course it’s about players as well.

“You bring players back into the squad who are out of injured and of course the football can look different because you maybe have more dynamism and more flexibility and more movement.

“But stylistically at this level, we want to play the game to our DNA, which is be aggressive when we are attacking and have that conviction when we attack.

“And that all comes from when you defend. You have to have that collective responsibility and collective resilience and, if you have that in your defending, then you can look to show that in your attacking play.

“We know there’s times we are going to be under pressure, especially away from home, but of course we want to give Feyenoord a problem when we have the ball as well.”

Phillips saw his debut cut short on Saturday when he injured his ankle towards the end of the first half against Dundee.

The on-loan Liverpool defender was replaced by Lagerbielke at half-time, although he was only scheduled to play an hour in his first appearance since his move.

He trained at Celtic Park on Monday but Rodgers later said at the De Kuip Stadium in Rotterdam: “Nat has rolled his ankle so we will just have to see on that.”

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  • Brendan Rodgers reveals his discontent at Celtic’s summer transfer business Brendan Rodgers reveals his discontent at Celtic’s summer transfer business

    Brendan Rodgers has admitted his discontent with Celtic’s summer transfer business in the same week the club announced record profits.

    The Celtic boss claimed every manager would want more signings, but he made it clear he was not satisfied with what transpired.

    Celtic announced a record annual profit of £40.7million on Monday and revealed they had had £72.3m “net of bank borrowings” on June 30 this year, although they have since invested £15million on transfer fees.

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    Celtic signed seven players on permanent deals this summer – Kwon Hyeok-kyu, Marco Tilio, Yang Hyun-jun, Odin Thiago Holm, Maik Nawrocki, Gustaf Lagerbielke and Luis Palma – and brought in Paulo Bernardo and Nat Phillips on loan.

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    Outside of Phillips, who came in late in the window after a spate of injuries to central defenders, the average age of the new arrivals was 21 when they signed.

    Celtic lost three regulars from their treble-winning squad in Jota, Carl Starfelt and Aaron Mooy, and now have a larger but arguably less experienced squad.

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    “I think I have said it before here, that to maximise that potential, of course, you need that balance in your squad.

    “You need quality and you need experience, and that will obviously help and support potential that you have.

    “So that’s something that hopefully over the course of my time here that the squad can regenerate into that way.”

    Rodgers admitted pre-match in Rotterdam that his team were not at “peak Celtic”, but there were positive signs during the game before a soft opening goal from a free-kick and the two red cards undermined their chances.

    When asked how close they were to clicking into gear, Rodgers said: “It’s time. A lot of young players coming into the squad, coming into the team.

    “It’s a different team even from when I agreed to come in, looking at the players who have moved on and the players we have brought into the club.

    “It takes that little bit of time and obviously when you are missing key players, key players can influence the level at which you play the game.

    “But thankfully the likes of Reo Hatate…. he had another 55-60 minutes the other night, so that’s really good for him in terms of match practice because he has not played so much. When he gets up to speed, he will show he is a fantastic player.

    “A few others are coming back a little bit later, but I would anticipate us getting better as the season goes on.”

    Phillips remains a doubt for Saturday’s trip to face Livingston in the cinch Premiership after missing Tuesday’s European clash in Rotterdam.

    “Nat had a heavy roll on his ankle last weekend,” Rodgers said. “We will give him another 24 hours. He has been out on the pitch so we will just assess it from there.”

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