Celtic: Brendan Rodgers demands champions improve defence

Brendan Rodgers and Scott Brown on the touchline as Celtic face Hearts
Brendan Rodgers' oversaw a 2-1 win at Tynecastle in his first league game as Celtic manager

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers says he's proud of his team for "never leaving the game early" but admits he'd like to see continued improvements in defence.

Since Rodgers took over at Parkhead in May 2016, his team have scored in all 68 domestic matches they have played.

Although they've conceded only 13 goals in 21 games against Scottish opposition this term, Rodgers is demanding more as they seek to extend their unbeaten run.

"Our identity as a team is to defend well first of all," he said.

"And I think we can still be better on that front even though we've conceded less goals at this period of the season than we did last season.

"I still feel there are areas of that where we can be a little bit more synchronised in our work and our pressing, and the players are doing very well at it, but our demand is to be better in those moments.

"We've got lots of goal threats in the team. They [the players] never leave the game early, so no matter what the scoreline is, they're also going to be there for the duration of the game, and that's something that we're proud of."

The champions travel to Tynecastle on Sunday, with their Scottish Premiership meeting with Hearts one of nine matches Celtic will play in December.

Hearts v Celtic in league since Brendan Rodgers took over
07/08/16: Hearts 1-2 Celtic
29/01/17: Celtic 4-0 Hearts
02/04/17: Hearts 0-5 Celtic
21/05/17: Celtic 2-0 Hearts
05/08/17: Celtic 4-1 Hearts

Rodgers believes the Gorgie outfit and his counterpart Craig Levein should be applauded for fielding young players such as 16-year-olds Harry Cochrane and Anthony McDonald.

The former is set for a midfield battle with Celtic captain Scott Brown, who is twice his age, while the latter was integral in both Hearts goals in their midweek win over Dundee.

"I've seen it over many years working with Steven Gerrard," former Liverpool boss Rodgers said.

"Every player that came up against Steven would raise their game 10 to 15% because they are up against a top player and Browny has the same up here.

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Highlights - Hearts 2-0 Dundee

"Every week, every player who comes up against him knows how good he is so they always see it as a real test.

"Whether it's the young guy at Hearts or some of the other players, Browny faces that every week."

Rodgers confirmed centre-back Dedryck Boyata will be fit for Sunday's match, after picking up a knock in Wednesday's 3-1 win over Hamilton Academical.

But midfielder Tom Rogic has been ruled out until January with a knee problem.

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