CELTIC will be without a quartet of creative talent and goal scoring firepower when they line-up against Zenit St Petersburg on Thursday evening in the Europa League.
Assistant manager Chris Davies has broken the bad news that these top players miss all miss the first leg at least.
Paddy Roberts, Stuart Armstrong and Leigh Griffiths are definitely out and it looks like Tom Rogic will not be considered for a starting position having failed to get any match time at the weekend or in the Development match against Motherwell that was called off due to bad weather.
“Patrick Roberts is just returning to training but isn’t available for the game,” Davies confirmed.
“Tom Rogic is a little bit further on as he has had a couple of weeks training and hopefully he will be available over the next week or so.
“Stuart Armstrong unfortunately is still in his rehab, the same with Leigh Griffiths, and then we have the long-term ones.”
Those missing in action will also include Celtic’s first pick central defender Dedryck Boyata do Davies and Rodgers don’t have their troubles to seek as far as team selection is concerned.
They do however remain positive that Celtic can get a result and maintain the club’s positive record against Russian sides.
“What’s very important to acknowledge and respect is the level of opponent we are about to play against,” Davies said.
“Having analysed them and watched them now for a few months, and had people scouting them, they are individually and collectively a top team, a Champions league-level team, with quality. We recognise that, we respect that and we will prepare for that.
“They are Champions League level. I have spent a lot of time watching and analysing them. They are a team that are good in possession but also very good on the counter attack and they can be a threat from set-plays – the top teams can do all three of those.
“They have shown that in the games I have seen. They are top scorers in the Europa League, with 17 goals, which is nearly three goals a game and they have conceded less than a goal a game, and these numbers tell a story as well. We respect them but we see it as an opportunity, and we are going to take a lot of positivity and energy into the game and see what happens.”
One factor that many think give Celtic some hope is the fact that Zenit are still in their winter break and haven’t had a competitive match since before Christmas. That however is not a theory that the Celtic management team buys into.
“We have an insight into that. At Liverpool, we played them at the same round five years ago when Brendan was the manager. We drew the game over the two-legs 3-3, but went out on away goals. There was a bit of talk about their condition pre-game but they were in very good condition.
“They’ve had a couple of training camps now to build up their fitness and plenty of games to be ready so I am expecting them to be physically at a level to compete.”
Having managed to get through to the Europa League to give the club the relative rare opportunity to play European football after Christmas, Davies and Rodgers are now looking at a tactical approach to see how far they can take the Scottish Champions, in the knowledge that the season’s target for Europe has already been delivered. Delivered though, it has to be said, with two or three sore bruises to the support’s pride.
The fans want Celtic to be able to compete in this tie.
“Our objective was to qualify for the Champions League and make sure we have European football after Christmas, and thankfully we did that,” Davies stated.
“It’s something which is important to keep in the mind, that we have this exciting game to look forward to in what is going to be a fantastic atmosphere. We are all really looking forward to it and that was the objective at the start.
“You have seen in previous two-legged games we’ve had that there are different results. Against Rosenborg, for example, we were 0-0 which maybe at the time didn’t feel like the best result, but we kept a clean sheet and put ourselves in a strong position for the second-leg and we went away and finished the job off. You have to be in a position where you have a chance for the second-leg as it’s only going to be half-time.”
That support has been there through the three Champions League group stage defeats, with Celtic scoring only once. Any visiting side will look at this recent record and conclude that Paradise, despite the contribution to the occasion that the support unquestionably makes, is still somewhere that they can get a result.
Accordingly Thursday’s visitors may choose to be a little more adventurous that might otherwise have been the case. Yet Davies is convinced that the backing from the stands will be a factor.
“Hopefully, it’s something we can use to inspire us,” the Celtic assistant manager said.
“The fans generate the most incredible atmosphere. I have never heard noise like I have heard at Celtic Park at a football game before. It really is a fantastic experience in the stadium.
“On the pitch, we have to perform equally as well to inspire the fans. We will be working together and that’s the plan. It’s a phenomenal place to play.”
THE CELTIC STAR PODCAST FEATURING INSPIRAL CARPETS’ CLINT BOON, LISTEN NOW!
This week, Paul John Dykes and Kevin Graham are joined by Inspiral Carpets’ Clint Boon, who wrote a classic song that will forever be associated with the club’s invincible treble-winning campaign – ‘This is How it Feels’.
Crafted by Clint in the late eighties, ‘This is How it Feels’ became one of Inspiral Carpets’ biggest hits upon its release in 1990. This song became a Madchester classic, and renditions have previously rang out at the city’s Old Trafford and Main Road stadiums. Now, in homage to Brendan Rodgers’ quest to lead Celtic to ten consecutive league titles in-a-row, the tune has travelled to Glasgow for a reworking by those renowned tunesmiths, The Green Brigade.
But what does Clint Boon think of Celtic’s version of his melancholic slab of genius? The Oldham-born psychedelic organ-grinder joins A Celtic State of Mind to chat about ‘This is How it Feels’, Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield, Noel Gallagher, Lee Mavers, Morrissey, Mark E Smith and more in Episode 34 of The Celtic Star podcast.