Celtic really are in a different league and achieving this has been a real feat of Rodgers’ man-management because he has franchised so many in an oversized squad.
Certainly, he has had his headline acts such as Moussa Dembele, Scott Sinclair – who took his goal tally to double figures on Saturday in the relatively straightforward win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle – and captain Scott Brown, now a doubt for Scotland after leaving the field gingerly with a bruised foot after an hour.
Yet, at the weekend, it was the supporting cast that had people talking. Leigh Griffiths might not care for that ranking, but the win over the Highlanders marked only his second start in two months. Stuart Armstrong, meanwhile, was termed “the blond Cafu” and was gushed over by Rodgers for filling in at right-back after making a central midfield role his own in recent weeks. And then there was Callum McGregor.
McGregor was excellent at the weekend in a rare start. He produced an audacious chip to send Sinclair through for Celtic’s 48th-minute opener, and started the move that led to the second. A sharp pass then resulted in him being flattened as he released the ball, with this yellow-card transgression bringing a 65th-minute dismissal for Greg Tansey.
McGregor’s contribution was all the more laudable after the mullering he received for blowing an outstanding chance to claim a last-gasp winner in the Champions League draw with Borussia Monchengladbach. Punishment for putting the ball wide with the goal gaping was expected to come in first-team exile for a few weeks. Rodgers offered him little protection in the aftermath, stating he “had” to score or “square” the ball for a team-mate to finish.
Yet, four days later, he provided McGregor the ultimate vote of confidence by handing him a place in the side. Rodgers may have been in part seeking to make amends for comments that encouraged open season on McGregor. That may have had a bearing, too, in the manager’s post-match line to journalists that “there’s been a lot said about young Callum McGregor missing but you should write about his pass, the improvisation and that ability that he had to flick it in between two defenders to set Scotty [Sinclair] up”. Whatever, McGregor was able to exorcise the demons of Gladbach instantly. A point not lost on the playmaker. “The manager did say that was some good quality for the first goal. So that silenced the critics from the other night,” he said.
“Sometimes a miss can mean you can be left out. But the manager has given me a good confidence boost, he has backed me, I got a start against Inverness and put in a good performance. So Tuesday goes to the back of your mind and as a player it’s important to focus on the positives. You are going to have ups and downs, so it’s important to stay mentally strong because if you crumble you have no chance.”
McGregor, pictured, would object to the notion he seemed to crumble when his chance came in Germany. “I got through and the angle I was at, I could see the keeper had made himself look big but there was a wee area to aim for, and I tried to put it in the bottom corner. If I was in that position again I would do the same.
“It wasn’t a case of not knowing what to do; more it was that I dragged it a bit. I know everyone was disappointed but no more than me. All I can do is take it in my stride and bounce back. It did fire me up for Saturday. It isn’t nice to have people speaking negatively about you and so you have to use and take that into the next game.”
Celtic are using what they have to make every domestic game another example of a superiority that genuinely could be sustained for the entire league season.