The build-up to his first Premiership fixture in charge of Celtic may have been obscured by the small matter of Champions League qualifying business but Brendan Rodgers has still found time to lose sleep over tomorrow’s trip to Tynecastle.
As opening games go, they don’t come much more appetising for the Scottish champions than a trip to Hearts. It is an occasion Rodgers is relishing, not least because of the positive memories he retains from his previous visit to Gorgie four years ago when his Liverpool side won 1-0 in a Europa League play-off round tie.
When the dust settled on Celtic’s dramatic 2-1 win over Astana in Glasgow on Wednesday night, his thoughts quickly turned to the start of his team’s domestic title defence.
“My mantra and focus is always the next game anyway,” said Rodgers. “We had a big game during the week and I got to sleep at 1.30am after it.
“At 4.30am, I was studying Hearts for the game on Sunday. You’ve got no time to rest. I didn’t set my alarm, by the way, I just couldn’t sleep!
“I’ve got scouts here who do great work, including John McGlynn who knows Hearts inside out. But it’s also good to see it with your own eyes. Now everything gets poured into planning to get the best result against Hearts.
“I watched a recording of their last European game which they lost. They worked hard and were unfortunate. Conor Sammon is a new player for them and I know Don Cowie well. He is an excellent player, I took him to Watford when I was manager there and he did a really good job for me.
“So we will give Hearts plenty of respect but we go there with confidence that we can get a result.
“That night I went there with Liverpool, it was very passionate. I was surprised when they told me afterwards how many people were in the stadium, because it feels like a lot more.
“It will be the first time for me going into the first league game of a season after having already played competitive fixtures in Europe. We are having the game in August and it feels like December already!
“But it means we are in a good physical state going into the game. So I’m now looking forward to the Premiership starting. It’s new for me in every way and I’m excited about.”
In a week which saw Celtic captain Scott Brown and Rangers striker Kenny Miller trade verbal digs over the likelihood of the Ibrox club presenting the biggest threat to the champions’ bid for a sixth successive title, Rodgers provided a more diplomatic response when asked where he expected the great challenge to come from.
“I don’t know a lot of the teams well but I think you look at the usual suspects who have been in and around it in the Premiership,” he said. “Aberdeen are an experienced team who were close to Celtic for three quarters of the time last season. They’ve obviously just come out of European football which means they’ll maybe have less games to play.
“They have been building without too many changes. I know some of the players there and they are good players. They will be around it.
“Robbie Neilson at Hearts [pictured above] has been trying to build something. They lose players but he’s still organised and he is working to have maybe another challenge this year.
“Rangers will of course have their supporters demanding that they are up there and doing well.
“Then you look at the great job big Tommy Wright has done at St Johnstone. They finished fourth last year so I’m thinking every game will be a difficult test.
“But our concentration is primarily on ourselves. If you win the games you should win, then you are in with a good chance of winning the title again.”