Most managers faced with going into a crucial fixture without two players who scored a combined total of 50 goals for their team last season would be excused more than an element of trepidation.
So it says much about the confidence Brendan Rodgers has in the adaptability of his squad that he is unfazed by the likely absence of both Moussa Dembele and Leigh Griffiths from tonight’s Champions League third qualifying round, first leg meeting with Rosenborg at Celtic Park.
Dembele missed training with a thigh injury yesterday and could join the suspended Griffiths in the stand as the Scottish champions reach the halfway point of a qualifying campaign they hope will lead them into the group stage of the tournament once again.
Rodgers has found solutions to most of the problems he has faced since becoming Celtic manager. As he looks to conjure up another tonight, he has hinted that he could turn to the player he calls his ‘Magic Man’ as the focal point of a revamped attack.
Tom Rogic scored in both legs of Celtic’s 6-0 aggregate win over Linfield in the previous round and the Australian international’s attacking instincts are set to be a valuable weapon against the Norwegian champions.
During spells when Dembele and Griffiths were both missing last season, Rodgers tried wingers Scott Sinclair and Patrick Roberts in the central role with mixed results. It was Rogic’s contribution up front in the closing stages of the 5-0 win at Partick Thistle in May, however, which has perhaps provided the option the Celtic boss will take this time.
“I did a number of things last year,” reflected Rodgers. “I played Scotty up front, it didn’t work, so I had to change it! I played Pat up there, who was brilliant. Some of you may or may not have noticed that in the Partick game for the last half hour I played Tom Rogic up there. That was planning forward, thinking about the ‘what if’. That was a false nine. So we’ll see.
“I’ve done that wherever I’ve been, having that ‘floating’ player. You need to have pace in behind. It can gain you superiority in a vital area of the field. It works.
“You always have the reference of a No 9 in your squad. For me, they need to move and have mobility anyway. But if they’re not available, it’s about finding other ways.
“That was the beauty of last season. At this stage last year, we were a bit stiff and rigid in terms of how the team played.
“We had to get them mentally right and then over the course of the season we were able to play a different system, different structures and then we arrived at this point where we have courage.
“British teams, in the main, have a courage which is a physical courage – be aggressive, strong and then sometimes what happens is that, when the pressure is on, the players and the coaches get nervous.
“This team now is building towards having that courage to play. We are at a point now where, in these games there is a different feel and a different courage to accept the ball and have the nerve to play. That’s what you build and what you plan for.
“We didn’t have a striker at Hearts last season and we scored five. That’s what you need – multiple goalscorers. We’ve got Rogic who scores, Sinclair who scores, James Forrest chips in, Stuart Armstrong can score.
“We have enough goalscorers in there – just because it’s not a traditional goalscorer doesn’t mean you can’t score. You just have to find a different way if that is the case.”
Celtic face a Rosenborg side who are clear at the top of the Norwegian top flight, halfway through their domestic season. Rodgers believes he knows exactly what to expect from the visitors.
“They will want to be resolute and not open up too many spaces for us,” he said. “They are pretty straightforward in how they play – it’s 4-3-3. They are very set in their way – a single midfield pivot, two number eights pushing on, wingers outside.
“They are set on how they play and very rarely change. It will be structured, very organised, they will have good quality, they will be together as a team and they will be fit, of course, because of the time of year it is.”
Rosenborg have wasted no opportunity in the build-up to the tie to paint themselves in the role of rank outsiders. If that is an attempt at mind games on their part, Rodgers shrugs it aside.
“I’m not bothered,” he added. “We are Celtic. We will always have pressure. We plan to win over two legs and we accept pressure. That means you are the big club. The pressure is always there, it’s not going away.
“If you need to say you are the underdogs to relieve some pressure, that’s okay. We plan and develop to play with pressure and expectancy because of the size and scale of the club. You can’t hide from it. It’s there.”
The marquee name in the Rosenborg line-up is former Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner. The Danish international’s reputation has often exceeded his performance levels during his career but Rodgers is wary of the mercurial 29-year-old suddenly turning it on at Celtic Park.
“He’s the reference for their team,” he said. “He is six foot four, has good feet and if he wakes up in the morning and God turns him on, he can maybe play well.”