A sense of calm after the storm pervaded Brendan Rodgers’ pre-match assessment of Celtic’s Betfred Cup semi-final against Hearts at Murrayfield tomorrow. The seemingly never-ending furore about dates, times, venues and ticket allocations for this match and the meeting of Rangers and Aberdeen in the other last-four tie, included a nip from the Parkhead manager who claimed the Edinburgh rugby ground was “certainly not neutral, with Hearts having played there for part of last season”.
Rodgers, always keen to quash any possible distractions before games, rowed back from that sentiment yesterday when asked if there was any issue with the staging of the game in terms of an advantage for Hearts.
“I don’t think so,” said Rodgers, whose players trained at Murrayfield on Tuesday. “My point before was about having the opportunity to at least train and be at the stadium. Both teams will have done that but of course Hearts will have played there a little bit more.
“But they are unique occasions and my experiences of semi-finals up here have been brilliant, great atmospheres, and we’ve been able to make the finals, which has been great. So I think it is just going to be a really good occasion, at a beautiful, iconic stadium in Murrayfield. The place will be packed and we will look to try and do what we always do and impose our game and play as well as we can.”
With more than 60,000 expected at Murrayfield – which could see the combined attendances for the League Cup semi-finals top the 100,000 mark for the first time since 1965 – the sense of occasion runs deep for Rodgers. More than that, the scale of the fixture could be considered to play into Celtic’s hands given Hearts’ relative inexperience of such occasions.
“It’s what we are used to, in fairness,” Rodgers said. “We have an incredible support base at home and for lots of the games – especially the big European games – we are away travelling to those types of environments. Of course, the last few years we’ve been at Hampden and it’s going to make for a fantastic spectacle I’m sure. The Scottish supporters up here are so passionate about their football and I think, over the course of the day, you’ll have two games that I’m sure will be a great advert for the game up here.”
Rodgers’ men are unlikely to go into the semi-final with any sense of deflation on the back of their limp Europa League loss in Leipzig on Thursday. They will, though, be depleted, with injuries likely to rule out Jozo Simunovic and Cristian Gamboa. Dedryck Boyata is suspended so Filip Benkovic – who wasn’t risked on Thursday – is expected to form a new centre-back pairing with Jack Hendry.
On the plus side for Rodgers, Tom Rogic, who missed out in Germany with a knee issue, has “a great chance of playing”.
The Australian has been a key performer as the champions have racked up 20 straight domestic cup victories under Rodgers, a run that has yielded two League Cups and two Scottish Cups. Silverware is the currency Rodgers says his club can take to the bank in the face of any debits sustained on the European front and during their patchy league form this season.
“When you work at the top clubs there’s only one standard, and that’s winning,” he said. “That’s what you’re judged by.
“There’s lots of things now in the modern game where you’re judged by social media and Twitter feeds and all that stuff but the real standard for the big clubs is what you put in the trophy cabinet. That comes from the pitch to there. For us, the standard is winning.
“We work to win but we always want to entertain our supporters. This season we’ve been getting towards that in the last couple of games and we’ve been very, very good. It’ll be a tough game at the weekend but we aim to continue with that quality of game in the semi-final.”