There might have been an attempt by Brendan Rodgers to gild the lily through his practically suggesting the 4-0 thumping of Ross County was a five-star performance but the Celtic manager’s astuteness underpinned a breeze of a success that will set his team up for Wednesday’s League Cup quarter-final away to Dundee and the country’s biggest domestic fixture that sees them on derby duty at Ibrox three days’ later.
If Celtic weren’t consistently churning out the results, and performances for that matter, on the home front, Rodgers would be derided as one of football’s tinkermen. Incredibly, across his 73-game tenure as Celtic manager, he has only fielded the same team in back-to-back games once. Oddly, that was when his team played St Mirren in the Scottish Cup in March and gave one of their most insipid displays of his time.
This season alone, the average number of changes game-to-game stands at four. On the domestic front, this hasn’t made for any lack of fluency or disjointedness but instead given Celtic continual fresh impetus.
They were always going to be supplied that by Moussa Dembele’s scoring return from two months out with a hamstring problem, but the switch to a back-three to accommodate both Leigh Griffiths and the Frenchman – which meant deviating from his preferred one up in a 4-2-3-1 shape – was instrumental in Celtic “pressing the reset button” following the dispiriting dismantling by a £700 million-valued PSG team.
Indeed, as perky as Celtic were, it was Rodgers’ post-match articulations that impressed.
Rodgers really does get it when it comes to where his team find themselves. Even 15 months on, with nothing to prove to themselves or anyone else when they step out to face modest Premiership opponents, he is finding ways to prevent games becoming a grind or a grim watch for his captive home audience. “We play teams four to six times a year and Celtic always have to be dominant. But it can never be stale. You can’t be predictable. And having the flexibility to play in the different systems that we do will hopefully make it challenging for our opponents each time we play. So today playing with the two strikers, with the width and the numbers inside – it worked well,” was the manager’s perceptive assessment.
To his credit, Rodgers didn’t take the easy out of the financial inequality for the club’s heaviest ever home defeat that the Parisians inflicted. He said his team had to be better, had to believe they could be better.
And when it comes to any given league game, he patently sees it as a must that his team must do better than simply do enough to win any game.
To that end, he allowed Tom Rogic licence to bound around in the final third and batter shots in from any distance – the means by which he helped himself to an early opener.
When it came to wing-backs Rodgers played two wingers in these roles, in the form of James Forrest and Jonny Hayes. A measure of what would be Celtic’s attacking intent, Forrest also helped himself to a second-half double.
Maybe it is easy for Rodgers to continually turn over his squad when he has two teams’ worth of players that might well win the Scottish title, but it is his game understanding that allows the rejigging to be so seamless – as County manager Jim McIntyre acknowledged.
With Dembele, pictured left, now firmly back in the frame for regular game time – even if the player and his manager spoke about taking care over the 21-year-old’s use with an eye to Saturday’s derby at Ibrox – and Dedryck Boyata expected to return next month, Celtic will become stronger across the winter.
If they are to retain any hopes of a third place in their Champions League group they need to demonstrate greater resilience than was in evidence against PSG when they travel to Brussels next week for their second tie of the group stage against Anderlecht.
Anything they do on the home front in the League Cup against Dundee or when facing up to Rangers at the weekend won’t prepare them for that continental assignment and that is one difficulty that Rodgers doesn’t have it in his power to do anything about.
All he can do is construct and configure teams to win and win well in the club’s own backyard and see if he can squeeze anything extra from his squad when Europe comes calling. Celtic at the moment straddle two worlds: they are a ravenous bulldog on the domestic scene and a puppy in a bulldog frame when stepping up to the highest level.
For any talk about how impossible it would seem for Rodgers’ interest to be sustained in the job through knocking off victories in an uncompetitive environment, he thus far remains a dog with a bone when it comes to doing so.