Brendan Rodgers points to draw as positive for Celtic

It is not difficult to believe Celtic have seldom had a better opportunity to improve the dismal away record which has haunted them in the group stage of the Champions League than the one which presents itself at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium tonight.
Celtic's Moussa Dembele trains at Lennoxtown before flying out to Brussels. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNSCeltic's Moussa Dembele trains at Lennoxtown before flying out to Brussels. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS
Celtic's Moussa Dembele trains at Lennoxtown before flying out to Brussels. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

Just one victory has been achieved on the road in their nine previous participations at this phase of Europe’s elite club competition, with three draws and a dispiriting tally of 23 defeats.

Brendan Rodgers, at least, does not carry too much of that baggage with him. The Celtic manager’s response to a 7-0 humbling by Barcelona in the Nou Camp last season was to guide them to two well-received 1-1 draws at Borussia Monchengladbach and Manchester City.

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Those performances set the tone for the kind of display Rodgers is seeking this evening against an Anderlecht side who have already dispensed with their own coach, Rene Weiler, after a poor start to the season. Rodgers is determined that his players will show they are now capable of thriving consistently away from home in Europe.

“You can take playing away in this competition in two ways,” he said. “You can either embrace it and look forward to the challenge of it - or not.

“For us, the mentality we try to create is to look to be defensively strong and play the game we play at home when we are away from home. Of course, you know you are going to have to show moments of resilience to cope with other pressures away from home, especially at this level.

“But in the main, we look forward to trying to play our game. That’s all we try to do in this competition.”

While Anderlecht remain in a state of flux, however, Rodgers remains wary of the threat they could pose under interim head coach Nicolas Frutos who has overseen two wins from two domestic matches since standing in for Weiler.

“Yeah, that does complicate our preparations a little bit,” he said. “They have played in a 4-1-4-1 and a 3-4-3 in the two games under him so far.

“If you’d watch them over a longer period with the same manager or coach in charge, then you can try and predict what they will play. But when it’s a new coach and the systems change, you have to try and anticipate. So it makes it a that little bit more difficult.”

Rodgers would regard a draw as a “positive” result tonight and while he recognises the significance of the matches against Anderlecht in looking to Celtic’s minimum requirement of finishing third in Group B, he is not writing off the prospect of taking something in the other fixtures remaining against Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

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“A positive result for us here is important,” he said. “Our plan is to win the game. If it ends in a draw and that’s where we’re at, then there are still other games in the group where, you just never know, you can pick up points.

“I watched Bayern Munich last week against Wolfsburg and they looked comfortable at 2-0 up. Most people watching it might have thought it would have ended up four or five. But the opponent came back and drew 2-2, which was unexpected. So you just never know where the points will come from.

“If you are solely looking at the games against Anderlecht, then to to get a win or a draw here – and the other games in the group map out as people think – then that leaves you with a home game against Anderlecht at the end to try and progress, You’d be happy with that.”

Just as they did last season, Celtic find themselves seeking to respond to a heavy defeat on matchday one when they were crushed 5-0 by PSG in Glasgow.

“Listen, you go into those games believing you can get a result,” added Rodgers. “But it’s logical, really, that if PSG bring their A-game and we bring our A-game, then PSG win.

“That’s simple and that’s not killing a dream or bursting any sort of bubble. I’m a realist, you know. But we will always look to plan to win and hopefully over the coming seasons we can do that in the Champions League.

“I think the PSG game was one where it was understandable. We all looked at that one, we didn’t plan and focus on being that timid in the game. But this is a level where you are learning all the time. Just because we have been on the run we’ve been on for the last 15 months or so doesn’t mean you’re not susceptible to poor performances.

“But I think the players, in terms of what they have given the club and the nation in terms of performance, has been outstanding. Every now and then against the top players in world football they might just miss it. It’s important for us as a team and a club that we don’t just see the qualification as the success, I want to try to create a mentality here that we can come and believe that we can get a result wherever we go. That’s going to be over time, to have the confidence at this level.”