Brendan Rodgers clearly hopes Celtic’s players can produce as bullish a performance against Bayern Munich as the manager himself delivered on the eve of this Champions League fixture. Still bruised by 7-0 and 5-0 defeats by Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain respectively in recent times, Rodgers has called on Celtic not to bow to illustrious reputation.
“We have a duty to play our game,” said the Celtic manager. “That is what we have already spoken of [to the team]. Our disappointment against Barcelona and PSG was that we didn’t quite impose our way of working. So our message is we have a duty to play how we play and that is to attack and be aggressive.
“The players have shown over the course of 16 months the improvements they are making; it takes a little bit more time at this level because of the standard of opponent but you can still go out and impose your game. We have done that in European games and this is a great opportunity for us again to show that we have that nerve to play. That would be the idea going into it. We need to be resilient but we know we can come away from home, play football and score goals. That is our intention.”
In their last Champions League outing Celtic did precisely that as they swaggered to a 3-0 win at Anderlecht. “We know the challenge,” Rodgers added. “We know the change of mentality in their team and their world-class players. But we want to fight to get a result.”
Rodgers nonetheless has cause to rue facing Europe’s premier clubs with one hand tied behind his back. Moussa Dembélé, whose star shone so brightly last season, has had the start to this one disrupted by injury. A blow in the specific context of Munich arrived with Jozo Simunovic’s failure to travel due to a hamstring complaint. Celtic will therefore face Robert Lewandowski and co with a makeshift central defence.
“It’s something we have had to be used to,” admitted Rodgers. “Unfortunately a lot of the players haven’t been available all the time. Ideally you want a settled partnership at centre-back but we have had to rejig and reshape it. You can’t cry about it. You have to find a way. You have to find the solutions and ensure everyone in the team is ready and focused.”
Bayern’s Champions League attitude was endorsed by the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti immediately after the 3-0 defeat by PSG. With Jupp Heynckes – at the age of 72 and for the fourth time – in charge, there is a sense of reinvigoration around the German champions. Jérôme Boateng, the Bayern defender, hinted as much on Tuesday.
“Of course it is important how the coach treats the players,” Boateng said. “You can see in how we train and play now we are having fun. That shows the coach is doing a good job.”
Rodgers, in continuing a theme, shrugged off the dugout switch. “They are top-class players so it doesn’t matter,” he said. “They will be motivated regardless but they have a manager who is hugely respected within the club.”
This marks Heynckes’ first Champions League game since he lifted the trophy with Bayern in 2013. “I never look back,” he said. “I never look at old matches. I live in the present. But this is a thrilling, exciting competition and it has a lot of importance.”
Perhaps typically for a man with such considerable experience – Bayern’s manager referenced a playing appearance for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Aberdeen 45 years ago – Heynckes dismissed the notion that in the company of such aristocracy Celtic can only chase third place in Group B.
“You shouldn’t make the mistake of underestimating other teams,” warned the veteran manager. “Celtic are a very competitive, experienced team with a great coach who was at Liverpool. I would never make the mistake of underestimating Celtic.”