Champions League: Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers 'happy' with players

Celtic captain Scott Brown and manager Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers (right) took over from Ronny Deila this summer
Champions League second qualifying round, second leg
Venue: Celtic Park Date: Wednesday, 20 July Kick-off: 19:45
Coverage: BBC Radio Scotland/DAB, live text commentary on BBC Sport website

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers says he has been "happy" with his players in every match since taking charge, including the shock defeat by Lincoln Red Imps.

The semi-professionals won 1-0 in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier in Gibraltar last Tuesday.

"It was a bolt of lightning rather than a massive shock to the world," Rodgers said before Wednesday's return at home.

"Since I came in, the players have been brilliant, first-class, very humble guys, no ego, they're working hard."

Celtic have won three and drawn two pre-season friendlies since Rodgers' appointment in May, and he said defeat in his first competitive game last week was "no embarrassment".

Rodgers is confident the Scottish champions will prevail over two legs to play the winners of the tie between Zalgiris Vilnius of Lithuania and Astana of Kazakhstan in the third qualifying round.

"I don't take much notice," he said of the negative headlines. "My only focus is the players. It's not a disaster.

"For me, the most important thing is to get through. That's what we expect and want. It's about perspective and assessing over two games."

Rodgers expects the champions of Gibraltar to set up defensively and play on the break on Wednesday, and has urged Celtic's fans to be patient.

"The message for our players is similar to our supporters: after the first 20 minutes, if we don't score, we have to be patient.

"You can be an attacking team, but there are times when the ball can't go forward and it has to be circulated, but our team will be set up always to create and score goals.

Celtic must recover from a shock 1-0 defeat in Gibraltar
Celtic must recover from a shock 1-0 defeat in Gibraltar

"It might be 70 minutes before you break a team down. They will be similar to the first game, 11 players behind the ball, playing on the counter-attack, us having a lot of possession. But it will be a totally different game.

"The players did everything they could [last week] and we got done by one sucker punch. But I've been happy with the players in every game."

'It's not about numbers but quality'

The Celtic manager is keen to add to his squad, but would not confirm or deny links to Liverpool full-back Jon Flanagan and Blackburn centre-back Shane Duffy.

He does not expect any new signings to be completed before Wednesday's game, though.

Before the first leg, Rodgers highlighted Celtic's lack of cover in central defence, with Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic missing through injury.

Former Start midfielder Kristoffer Ajer, who agreed to sign under previous manager Ronny Deila, has been used in central defence during pre-season friendlies.

"We experiment on the training field and in friendlies, but not tomorrow night. That's about getting the job done," said Rodgers, whose only senior signing to date has been striker Moussa Dembele from Fulham.

"We've already got some quality players here, but we want to bring in the right type of players to help the team. It's not about numbers but quality," he added.

"The market is pretty slow, but there's management of the squad here - you can't just stockpile players.

"There are a couple of players that we're looking at. We'll see how that develops over the coming days. We only want good players and that will always be dictated by the availability and the affordability of the player."

'I'm still a striker at heart' - Griffiths

Dembele took over the centre-forward's role last week from Leigh Griffiths, who scored 40 times for Celtic last season.

Leigh Griffiths in action for Celtic in their pre-season friendly against Wolfsburg
Griffiths was mostly used as a lone striker by former Celtic boss Ronny Deila last season

The Scotland forward says he would prefer to play through the middle, but is happy to contribute to the team from a wider attacking role, and share the burden of providing the goals.

"I played [wide] a couple of times in pre-season and I enjoyed it," Griffiths said. "With Moussa up there, it gives me a bit more freedom to express myself and get on the ball to make things happen.

"Ultimately, I'm still a striker at heart, I'm not a winger, and he knows that. But the gaffer has his ideas, his tactics, and I can adapt to the formation he wants to play.

"The manager spoke before that with Moussa occupying a couple of centre-halves, that gives me more time to get on the ball and try to thread passes through, and make the runs in behind that I like doing.

"The gaffer said the focus on me last season to score goals was too much, but he's brought in Moussa now and once he gets one, he'll get a few."

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