CALLUM McGregor last night expressed confidence he can deputise for Scott Brown in the Europa League match against RB Leipzig in Germany on Thursday evening if the Celtic captain if ruled out through injury.
Celtic medical staff will assess Brown, who only lasted 21 minutes after making his return from a three week lay-off with a hamstring strain against Hibernian at Parkhead on Saturday, at Lennoxtown today.
However, Brendan Rodgers admitted at the weekend that the player, who missed the 3-1 defeat to Salzburg in Austria at the beginning of October, is a serious doubt for the Group B game in the Red Bull Arena.
McGregor took over from Brown in central midfield against Hibs and performed well as his team ran out 4-2 winners and moved up to second place in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
But playing out of position against Leipzig, who drew 0-0 to Ausburg away on Saturday to slip from second to fourth in the Bundesliga table, will be a far bigger challenge for McGregor. However, the versatile Scotland internationalist believes he can cope.
“When you drop in there it is obviously a different role,” he said. “It requires different discipline. But with Broony playing in there every week you can’t learn off a better player. I am always trying to learn in case I am asked to drop in there and do a job for the team.
“I enjoy it in there. You have got to be more disciplined. But you get loads of touches on the ball and start the play. Broony plays it so well every week. When I am asked to drop in there three or four times a season it is not a big issue. So if I am asked to play in there then I can do a decent enough job.”
McGregor is hoping that Brown, who is out of contract at Parkhead in the summer and has been targeted by ambitious Australian club Western Melbourne, remains at Celtic for several seasons to come.
But he believes playing alongside the 33-year-old will be invaluable if he is moved into his position on a regular basis in the future.
“Broony is a real special character and a real special player as well,” he said. “If you don’t learn off somebody like that it is a wasted opportunity.
“He has been here for a number of years. Nobody really wants to think about life after Broony, but the more I can learn off his game and implement it into my game the better. I am trying to do that all the time.
“He is always talking to all the players. I am always asking him things and he is always giving me advice as well. We have a good relationship that way. But, as I say, he is always trying to help all the players.”
McGregor appreciates the meeting with Leipzig will be far more demanding for him than the Hibs match. “At the top level the tempo of the game, the speed of the pass, is the difference,” he said. “It is one and two touch. They try and get it through the pitch as quickly as possible. It is another notch up. You have got to try and match that tempo as well to try and get a result.”
The 25-year-old, scored against German giants Bayern Munich in a Champions League group game at Celtic Park last season, admitted he will have to perform a more defensive role than normal if is moved into central midfield against Leipzig.
“When you are that deeper one you then you are asked to be the disciplined one and let the boys go forward and create the chances,” he said. “But if it is on to step in and there is no danger behind then you can creep up the pitch a wee bit. You have just to pick your times in terms of when it is on.
“But your main responsibility when you play there is to try and mop up the game as much as you can and keep the ball moving. You might not have the same chance to score and get the headlines, but it is what the team needs that is important. The team needs a disciplined role when you are playing in there. It is about what is best for the team.”