BRENDAN Rodgers last night told his Celtic players their defeat to Anderlecht had shown they still have huge improvements to make in their games before they can be considered Champions League standard.

The Scottish champions finished third in Group B ahead of their Belgian opponents despite performing poorly against them and losing their final match 1-0 at Parkhead.

Rodgers admitted that securing a place in the last 32 of the Europa League ahead of a team which was seeded above them and has a bigger budget for players was a great achievement.

But he felt the match showed his charges they have some way to go before they can compete at the very highest level in Europe and warned it was unrealistic to expect them to go further in continental competition this season.

“The big picture is, having qualified for two Champions League, the ultimate aim was to get into the Europa League and the players have done that,” he said. “They deserve a huge amount of credit for that, but it was a poor performance.

“Our technique was poor. The players could not play quickly enough and needed five or six touches on the ball. You have to see the game much quicker when you get to this level. Some of the players were short in their decision-making and we were not so good.

“Some of them think they are Champions League players, but this is a good leveller for some of those guys to reflect on the performance and be better.”

Rodgers added: “We have closed the campaign and we have qualified. We were fourth seeds so to have got to the Europa League is absolutely brilliant.

“We now have a few months to put in a lot of work and hopefully be better when we play in February. There are always lessons to be learned at this level because of the players you are up against. We won’t get carried away. You see the amount of work we need to do to be competitive at this level.

“We just weren’t very good in our game. Their movement technically was better than ours. We wanted to start game fast but didn’t. When you give ball away as cheaply as we did, we got rid of it too many times instead of passing it.

“There is a story for some of our players in that they have a long way to go before they can call themselves to be players at this level. But we’ve shown over the course of this campaign that we can be better.”

Celtic will be unseeded in the draw for the Europa League knockout rounds in Nyon in Switzerland on Monday and could find themselves up against Atletico Madrid, CSKA Moscow, Arsenal, AC Milan and Lazio in February.

“We have to have a touch of realism,” said Rodgers. “There are going to be much, much better teams in there than ourselves.

“We have done absolutely amazing . We were fourth seeds in this and over the Champions League there won’t be too many of those who have jumped up to third place and gone through. We have been able to do that.

“But tonight was an example that there is still a long, long way to go and the gap there is with the really big teams at the very top level of European football and even those who are just below that as well.

“So there is a lot of work for us to do, but you also have to give the players great credit because they were playing a better team than us tonight and they stuck with it, they stayed strong and they got the job done.

“For that they deserve a huge amount of credit.”

HeraldScotland | Sport

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