Defensive problems pile up for Celtic ahead of Euro tie

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is still confident of a good result in Astana despite being hit by a number of defensive problems.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is still confident of a good result in Astana despite being hit by a number of defensive problems.

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Brendan Rodgers has played down his central defensive problems ahead of Celtic’s Champions League third -round qualifier against Astana today.

Danish defender Erik Sviatchenko did not travel to Kazakhstan after picking up a groin injury last Friday, while 18-year-old Kristoffer Ajer is out with a hand issue.

The Celtic manager was already without long-term injured centre-backs Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck 
Boyata, while new signing 
Kolo Toure remained in 
Glasgow to catch up on his 
fitness.

The often-criticised Efe Ambrose and 20-year-old Eoghan O’Connell, who scored against Leicester in the International Champions Cup at the weekend but who has yet to play in Europe, are the only two recognised centre-backs available although Sweden full-back Mikael Lustig looks set to play there.

Despite the shortage at the centre of his backline, Rodgers remained calm.

“He’s (Sviatchenko) been working well, but, unfortunately, before the game at the weekend he picked up a groin strain which makes him unavailable,” said the former 
Liverpool manager, who revealed midfielder Stefan Johansen did not travel due to personal reasons.

“We will assess that over the course of the next week and see if he can be available for the second leg.

“In these games it is always going to be the case of doing the very best that we could with the limited time and numbers that we have.

“But I am confident that whatever team we put out will do their very best, like we did in Saturday’s game against Leicester.

“Both players [Ambrose and O’Connell] have worked very well, in particular, young Eoghan, I have been 
really impressed with him 
over the course of the pre-
season.

“He is a good size, first and foremost he wants to defend and in the short period I have worked with him, he is good in the air. He has been in and around the first team for a few years now.

“He was up against tough opponents at the weekend. Even though Leicester have only been back a few weeks, they come back already fit and I thought Eoghan coped with that very well, the speed of their team. He has a brain for football, he understands the game very well for a young player and importantly he plays the game well. For a young player, if they show those qualities and professionalism I never have any fears of putting him in.”

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