Celtic 'sharper than ever' under manager Rodgers - Brown

Celtic captain Scott Brown celebrates with his team-mates
Scott Brown says the Celtic players are expected to be in peak condition throughout the year

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Celtic captain Scott Brown says Brendan Rodgers' management has made the squad "sharper than ever".

The Scottish champions are all but through to the Champions League group stage, leading play-off opponents Astana 5-0 before Tuesday's second leg.

The draw for the group stage is on Thursday, with Celtic on course to feature for the second straight season.

"It's the way the gaffer wants players to be, in peak condition all year round," said Brown.

"He understands that we go on holiday but he wants us to eat the right food and make sure you come back in the right physical condition," the midfielder added.

Celtic in 'better condition'

"We are a lot fitter than last season. We came back in better condition, we watched a lot more videos of Astana, how they played and how we can attack them and create chances.

"That's due to the gaffer and backroom staff who have looked into that. But on behalf of the players, the lads are looking a lot sharper than we probably ever have done."

Last term, Celtic beat Hapoel Beer Sheva 5-4 on aggregate at the play-off stage, coming through a nervous second leg with a 2-0 defeat in Israel.

"Looking back 12 months, we weren't that great a team," added Brown.

Nir Bitton (left) and Kristoffer Ajer
Nir Bitton (left) hopes to feature, with Kristoffer Ajer available for defensive duties

"We haven't made that many changes but the gaffer has brought us together and brought confidence and belief into probably the same players who have been here for three or four seasons."

Former Celtic goalkeeper Pat Bonner, who is part of the BBC Sportsound commentary team, believes the side will progress.

"I've no doubt whatsoever that they're through and I hope I don't have egg on my face," he said. "The dilemma that he [Brendan Rodgers] has at the back is Nir Bitton [who] had a cast or a shoe on to keep his ankle protected.

'Commanding position'

"But he did train last night [Monday] and he looked okay. That's the dilemma: whether he goes with Kristoffer Ajer in that position or does he start with Bitton and bring young Ajer on later when the game is almost sealed and the job is done?

"It'll be good to see a player like him get experience and will also tell us if he can handle this type of game.

"I think he [Rodgers] will go with a very strong team and he wants to get the job done. He wants to keep this momentum and tempo going that he's been building, to prepare them for the group stage. He doesn't want to lose that tonight.

"I don't think at any time in my career or doing this co-commentary that Celtic have been in such a commanding position."

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