CELTIC were dealt a blow on the eve of the first leg of their Europa League last 32 double header against Zenit St Petersburg yesterday when Nir Bitton was ruled out for the remainder of the season.

Bitton, the central midfielder who has played out of position at centre half at times during the 2017/18 campaign, has been troubled by a knee problem, his manager Brendan Rodgers revealed.

The 26-year-old Israeli visited a specialist in London last week and he has been told that he needs to undergo surgery.

The development is a considerable setback for Rodgers ahead of the meeting with Roberto Mancini’s side at Parkhead tonight.

He is without Dedryck Boyata due to injury and has started Bitton in the heart of his back line in Champions League games against Astana and Bayern Munich this term.

The Northern Irishman, who is also missing first team regulars Craig Gordon and Leigh Griffiths, admitted the loss of the player was far from ideal.

“Nir Bitton will probably be out for the season which is a blow for us,” he said. “He has an issue with his knee and probably needs an operation and that is probably him for the rest of the season.

“In terms of injuries overall this year has been tough for us, but it is a shame for him because he has been an important member of our squad. We are hoping some of the others will be back sooner rather than later.

“It’s a slight issue with his knee that he has put himself through. We had a look at it last week in London and it was deemed he needs the operation on it.”

Rodgers now looks set to field Jozo Simunovic, who gifted Partick Thistle two goals in Celtic’s narrow win William Hill Scottish Cup win on Saturday, and Kristoffer Ajer, who is just 19, in the middle of his defence.

Elsewhere, Rodgers revealed that Patrick Roberts, who had returned to training, had gone back to Manchester City, his parent club, to have his hamstring injury assessed.

He also stressed that Tom Rogic, the Australian playmaker who has recovered for a knee injury that has sidelined him for 10 weeks, isn’t ready to start the Zenit match. “He will be back in the squad,” said Rodgers. “If not, we are probably looking towards him for the weekend.”

Branislav Ivanovic, the former Chelsea player, is a doubtful starter for Zenit due to an eye injury and Rodgers admitted it would damage the Russians’ chances of triumphing if he is.

“He would be a big loss,” he said. “He is a brilliant player. He is playing in the position now, he originally came into Chelsea as a centre half, but ended up playing a lot of his career at right back.

“He is a brilliant player, a great professional. He is a very strong, has great experience and if he doesn’t play it would be a big miss for them.”

HeraldScotland | Sport

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