Brendan Rodgers urges Celtic to stick to passing principles

Celtic's Olivier Ntcham, Kundai Benyu and Kouassi Eboue ahead of the flight to Norway. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Celtic's Olivier Ntcham, Kundai Benyu and Kouassi Eboue ahead of the flight to Norway. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
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Celtic may have quite literally landed in Hell yesterday afternoon but Brendan Rodgers retains a calm assurance they are not about to be diverted from their path towards the promised land of the Champions League group stage.

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The airport serving Trondheim is situated in a suburb of the city which glories in its devilish name to the extent giant letters “H E L L” are humorously displayed in Hollywood hills style among the tall pine trees on the road leading into the centre.

The fact is that the picturesque surroundings of Trondheim – even in the rain which greeted Celtic on their arrival – are about as far away from the cliched European footballing metaphor of a “Welcome to Hell” for visiting teams as it is possible to imagine.

There is no doubt the Scottish champions face a significant test of their Champions League credentials against Rosenborg this evening after the goalless draw at Celtic Park last week in the first leg of the third qualifying round tie.

But while a degree of tension will inevitably envelop the return fixture at the Lerkendal Stadium, it is an assignment which holds no fears for Rodgers.

“We have to enjoy it and the pressure of planning to win,” said the relaxed Celtic manager as he settled into the team’s hotel beside the Trondheim Fjord last night.

“We don’t plan to disappoint, we plan to win. We come into a game where there is a wee bit at stake but we know we have the game to win, so we won’t worry about it. We won’t go into the battle and think about it night and day. We have to stay calm and we know if we play as a team we can get through. It is my job as the coach and the manager to install that into the players and to try to find a way.”

The Celtic directors might choose a different form of words than Rodgers’ “wee bit at stake” to quantify what success tonight means to the club, given the financial windfall which awaits in the group stage of the Champions League.

Understatement or not, there was nothing disingenuous about the sense of assurance being transmitted by the Northern Irishman as he looks to book a place in Friday’s play-off round draw.

“There is no Doomsday,” he added. “We drew a game last week. You have to come into these games and feel that, if you can impose your game, you can work well. They are never easy. And you can never come away from the pressure. You can’t run behind a tree and say ‘there is no pressure’ because there is. But how you regulate the pressure is important and how you distribute that flow of pressure. That’s for me to worry about in the players that I send out to play.

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“Our game is based on that. To play our game, you have to have nerve. For that you need to be calm, you need to have courage and you need to be together.

“That’s how we work, it’s how we train and we know when we work and train well – as we’ve shown many times – you get the results. You just hope you can pull it all together at this time of the season.”

Rodgers describes tonight’s contest as a “mismatch physically” in which his team are the ones at the disadvantage because of Rosenborg’s superior match sharpness midway through their domestic season.

It is something he believes his players can overcome by adopting a mature, possession-based approach which he insists holds the key for any Scottish team with ambitions of making progress in European football over a sustained period.

“You have to be physical but if you are a British team like Celtic and need to progress, you have to play better,” he added.

“That’s down to the nerve of the coach. If they get under pressure and they put that pressure on to the players then naturally the players will just get rid of the ball. But you want your players to pass it and there’s a difference between getting rid of it and passing it.

“In Scotland, you like to get rid of it. Most teams, not every team, but that’s what you try to do. Then you wonder why, 20 years later, you haven’t qualified for a World Cup. So there has to be an ability for coaches to accept the pressure and get your teams to play.

“If not you’ll be crying every year, asking ‘why are we not technically good enough?’ Because you encouraged them to get rid of it and not pass it.

“I just think you have to think clearly as a coach. Inside, you can be like a tumble drier. In Be’er Sheva in the play-off round last year, for example, there was no calmness. My heartbeat was in my head that night!

“That night we couldn’t pass it – we just tried everything in that game. But that’s an example of nervousness from a team which hadn’t qualified for a time, trying to find a new way of working. There’s night and day difference now. The best way to cope with it is have the ball, press hard, be aggressive and just do your best.

“We all know the consequence if we don’t. We want to win, but we will do it as a process.”

If all goes according to plan, Rodgers and his men will fly out of Hell Airport at around midnight tonight content in the knowledge they are still on course to bring the high profile Champions League nights back to their Paradise at Celtic Park in the next few months.

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