Celtic make light of schedule as Brendan Rodgers rings changes

The revolving door that Brendan Rodgers has operated with first-team picks of late might seem easy for a Celtic manager whose team have put the rest of Scottish football in a spin.

Liam Henderson made his third Celtic appearance of the season against Partick Thistle this week. Picture: SNS.

The Irishman, though, maintains his willingness to use a plethora of personnel between two matches isn’t down to the enormous points advantage that will ensure the club breeze to a sixth consecutive championship.

Rodgers has selected a different backline in each of the past six games. Tomorrow’s visit to Hamilton will be the club’s seventh encounter in a nine-fixture December. It is eminently possible that in the course of this final month of the year the former Liverpool manager will end up fielding nine different teams.

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Had recent weeks witnessed Celtic seeking to hold on to a slender advantage at the summit of the Premiership instead of constructing an unprecedented 14-point lead, Rodgers insisted yesterday he would still have cast continuity to the wind.

As he has in using two teams’ worth of outfield players. In the midweek win over Partick Thistle that meant giving a debut to teenager Calvin Miller and only a third start of the season to Liam Henderson. Rodgers can point to his own personal coaching history as proof that he has often delved into his squad during busy spells.

“I’ve always changed it,” he said. “I remember playing a game with Swansea in the 
Premier League against Aston Villa [on 2 January, 2012]. We had played Tottenham on the Saturday when Harry Redknapp was manager and Gareth Bale was playing and we had a great result, drawing 1-1.

“On the Monday, we faced Alex McLeish and Villa, and I changed nine players [despite the fact] Villa were coming off the best result of their season, having beaten Chelsea [3-1] at Stamford Bridge on the 
Saturday .

“Big Al kept the same team, which you would do. We won 2-0, we were fresh and dynamic and played really well. To play how I want to play, with intensity, positioning and speed, I need to have that in the side. I will make the changes because I trust the group.”

Rodgers’ trust has been rewarded by his side extending their string of league victories to 12 and their domestic unbeaten sequence that covers the entire season to 21.

He never felt that it had to be any other way and was not concerned that the bid to avoid burn-out among his squad before they reach the January winter shutdown would jeopardise their winning streak.

“I never ever thought it would cost points because I always play the team that I think can win the game,” he said. “People may see it as a risk. We moved eight players when we went away to face Ross County [in late October] , but I was confident the players who went into the team would win. It’s a great symbol of the team and how hard they work.

“I’ve got players here who have hardly been involved and it is a mark of respect to their work that they are at their lightest body weight they have ever been. Some of them are hardly playing, yet still working and hoping they might get the chance and their bodies are in great shape and condition. If they do come in, they will be ready. That’s a big tick in the box for their mentality and the respect they have for their profession.”

Rodgers says it’s only natural that his team have lost “a bit of fluency and that bit of cohesiveness” as he has shuffled his pack – injuries to James Forrest, who will return at Hamilton, Scott Sinclair, the midweek matchwinner in his first start for a month, and short-term absentee Tom Rogic a factor in the turnover.

As they move ever closer to the Lisbon Lions’ 26-game unbeaten domestic start to a season set in Jock Stein’s team’s all-conquering campaign of a half a century ago, Rodgers can delight in the fact that points for artistic merit is all they have lost in recent weeks.

“What you have to do in these periods is to win games and we have shown throughout this season we can play and manage and win many different types of games,” he said.

“If it’s a fast, footballing game, we can win that. If you have to dig in, put your foot in and be aggressive, we can do that. If you have to stand up, we can do that and, if the game gets a little bit broken in whatever weather conditions or opponents, we can still find a way.

“That’s been a real plus for us in a busy schedule. We’re on the downslope now with three games to go and we’ve enjoyed the challenge of it from a coaching and management perspective.”

To the grief of all others, Rodgers and his team have certainly risen to it.