BRENDAN RODGERS has called for some respect towards his Celtic defence on the back of criticism during the first half of the campaign.
The Glasgow club have come under fire for some of the goals lost this season domestically and on European duty, including in heavy defeats to French super power Paris St Germain in the Champions League.
Calls from fans and critics for another centre-half have been answered in the arrival of former German internationalist Marvin Compper this window, but Rodgers still feels his defence has coped admirably during the opening few months of the campaign while working towards a defensively-robust 2018.
“There’s a lot of focus on our boys defensively but there has to be a bit of respect and reality as to who they are playing against,” said the Celtic manager, speaking in Dubai where the SPFL Premiership champions have been training during the winter break.
“Celtic didn’t qualify for the Champions League and they had Virgil van Dijk and Jason Denayer at centre-half. Who do people want Celtic to get? If we can’t qualify with those two…
“I hear a lot of talk about ‘get a new centre half’ but defensively our team I think is very, very good but we could always be better. I think there is always shone around our central defence but we are a collective. We defend as a team and press as a team.
“The response to when we lost to Hearts [4-0 in December] has been great. Defensively to get four clean sheets, they can be tricky games especially on the back of the run we’ve been on.
“But what we have within our team is a happiness as to where we are at as a group. That allows us to reflect when things don’t go so well to go away and be better.
“There will always be criticism towards defending and attacking but it’s okay. We improve to get better in all facets of our game.”
The arrival of Compper for this week’s training camp in the Middle East was a welcomed boost for a Celtic side looking to progress against Zenit St Petersburg next month. However he wasn’t the only one.
Last Saturday afternoon Patrick Roberts checked in with his team-mates at Glasgow Airport less than six weeks after sustaining a hamstring injury which was feared to keep him out for three months.
The Manchester City winger has not returned to full training as of yet but Rodgers is encouraged that the Englishman is already well ahead of schedule.
“Pat’s timeline was the end of February,” he said. “We were told three months. He’s here and doing straight line running and February remains the aim. If it’s earlier than that then great.
“We’re waiting to see what’s Tom’s reaction is and we’ll see where he’s at by the end of January.”
Rodgers also denied rumours that Tom Rogic could be set for a move to China. The Australian internationalist is currently at home recovering from a knee injury which has kept him out since the defeat to Anderlecht at the start of December, but the Celtic manager is hopeful the playmaker will return to the fold soon.
“I’ve heard anything about that at all,” he said of the China speculation.
“Yes, he’s a good creative player but we don’t cry about that or go on about it. The players we’ve had out – the likes of Pat and Tom have been missing – are misses.
“Tom is a big talent and we hope we can get him back soon.”