Wednesday 20 February 2019

Rodgers goes on Celtic defensive

Celtic v Hibernian Live today BT Sport 1, KO 12.15

(l-r) Hibernian manager Neil Lennon will do battle with his fellow Northern Irishman Brendan Rodgers at Hampden Park today for a place in the Betfred Cup final. Pic: Getty
(l-r) Hibernian manager Neil Lennon will do battle with his fellow Northern Irishman Brendan Rodgers at Hampden Park today for a place in the Betfred Cup final. Pic: Getty

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers insists he will live or die by his own principles following debate about his Champions League approach.

Rodgers refused to compromise his usual 4-2-3-1 system against Bayern Munich despite missing defenders Jozo Simunovic, Erik Sviatchenko and Anthony Ralston through injury and his side lost 3-0.

The defeat could have been heavier and followed on from a 5-0 opening loss to Paris St Germain, but Celtic won 3-0 at Anderlecht in between while playing Rodgers' way and he will not change.


Rodgers, who has an unchanged squad for today's Betfred Cup semi-final against Hibernian, said: "As a manager, what you learn, especially with experience, is that if you ever go down as a manager, go down with your own vision. Not with someone else's.

"People say park the bus or be pragmatic. We tried that in Barcelona. We lost 7-0.

"It's not how I work. We have an idea of how we play which is first and foremost fundamentally an aggressive way to defend.

"If you look at the competitions, we defend well, we press well. But of course if you are playing against that level of quality, at times that quality can open you up.

"But for us it's just about progress. The players are on the right track.

"First half we didn't have as many attacking moments as we would have liked. But the players grew into the game and in the last 30 minutes they showed the confidence, if you play that way, you can still create opportunities."

Rodgers is awaiting news on the hamstring injury which kept Jozo Simunovic out of the trip to Germany.

The defender suffered a hamstring tear on international duty with Bosnia-Herzegovina earlier this month and the problem flared up again before Celtic flew out.

The centre-back now looks likely to miss next week's top-of-the-table Ladbrokes Premiership clash with Aberdeen and is a doubt for the return game against Bayern on October 31.

Rodgers said: "It's a repeat of what he had before so it might be a few weeks, but I will get more detail on that."

Erik Sviatchenko is still working his way back from a knee injury along with right-back Anthony Ralston. Rodgers played full-back Mikael Lustig in central defence in Germany, with Cristian Gamboa making a rare start at right-back.

Meanwhile, Neil Lennon admits his Hibernian side face a "tall order" if they are to topple Celtic and reach the final.

Hibs face the daunting task of taking on Rodgers' side in the semi-final, with the Hoops in the midst of a 59-game unbeaten domestic run.

Lennon's side came as close as anyone to ending the sequence, being held to a 2-2 draw at Celtic Park in September after a late Callum McGregor goal, but he has played down the significance of that result and laid down the challenge to his squad.

"The performance at Celtic Park, whilst it was a good performance, it will bear no significance on tomorrow even though it's still very fresh in the memory," he said. "This team are undefeated in over a year domestically, so it tells you about the tall order in front of us, but it's not insurmountable.

"It's a semi-final, and I've told the players no one remembers semi-finalists so it's important they take the game in isolation and not think about two weeks ago and focus on the here and now."

The surroundings today will be familiar for the Hibs players, who have recent experience of playing in the national stadium having won the Scottish Cup in 2016 and finishing runners-up in the League Cup that same season.


Such experience could be crucial to the squad, and Lennon tipped John McGinn to prosper after the midfielder scored twice in the draw earlier in the season.

He said: "He's a big-game player and I have a few of those in the team. They've been at Hampden on a few occasions now so it won't be unfamiliar surroundings for them.

"John is playing very, very well, so he's in a good vein of form and I hope he carries that on into the game tomorrow because we're going to need everybody at their best."

With Rangers facing Motherwell in the other semi-final, there remains a prospect of an Old Firm final in November, and Lennon said he was happy to go under the radar in the build-up.

"There's an expectation on the Old Firm to get to the finals and compete, so it's nothing new," he said. "It has been a low-key build-up, which suits me.

"In terms of our preparation, it's been pretty good and no different to how we'd approach other games. Celtic are favourites in every game they play domestically so I don't think it will have any bearing on their mindset."

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