Brendan Rodgers hails big-game ace Callum McGregor after goal

Callum McGregor celebrates his superb match-winning strike against Zenit St Petersburg. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Callum McGregor celebrates his superb match-winning strike against Zenit St Petersburg. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
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The ultimate value of Callum McGregor’s goal for Celtic against Zenit St Petersburg will only be known when the final whistle blows in the second leg of the Europa League last-32 tie at the Krestovsky Stadium next week.

But there is already no doubt in manager Brendan Rodgers’ mind over the overall worth of the 24-year-old midfielder as Celtic pursue further success at home and in Europe.

McGregor often finds himself down the pecking order when the individual plaudits are being dished out to Rodgers’ squad. Yet, on his 150th appearance for the club, he was very much the main man. An outstanding display was sealed by his skill in controlling a pass from Charly Musonda before driving home a right-foot shot which gave Celtic a 1-0 lead to take into the second leg in Russia.

It was his sixth European goal and drew comparisons with Frank Lampard from Rodgers, whose mind flashed back to a strike the Chelsea icon scored in a Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich in 2005.

“It reminded me of that goal Frank scored at Stamford Bridge that night,” said Rodgers. “The ball came over and Frank had to swivel on his left-hand side to finish it from a really difficult angle.

“It was like Callum’s goal, because on Thursday night he had to go up and swivel on his right foot and then finish. He was absolutely brilliant on the night. He can play in a number of positions for us and play them all to a very high level.

“We played him just off the front against Zenit, to support Moussa Dembele up front but also to give us four against three in midfield. Callum finds space very well and he is also a goal threat. The idea is to give our players a personality to be able to play with a high level of technique and to have a tactical idea of the game. Callum has got all of that.”

McGregor has flitted in and out of Rodgers’ starting line-up
this season and the January arrival of Musonda on loan from Chelsea seemed to mean he might find it even harder to nail down a regular place.

But Rodgers added: “What is important is the squad. We have really talented players but we have a lot of games to play. We need a big squad because you can’t play in 
every single game.

“Callum has played in a lot of big games for me. I took him out the team for a wee bit because he was playing a lot because of the injuries to the players who are similar to him, Tom Rogic and Stuart Armstrong and these guys. Callum wasn’t getting a rest and so we took him out to get him fit 
and fresh, so we could slowly introduce him again.”

Rodgers was also gratified by the performance of Eboue Kouassi. The 20-year-old Ivory Coast midfielder, signed for £3 million from Russian side Krasnodar in January 2017, caught the eye on what was only his seventh start. Rodgers said: “He has been very unfortunate so far and it is purely down to the way I have set the team up.

“I don’t really go with two holding midfield players because I tend to go and attack. It normally just leaves Scott Brown as the controlling player so Eboue has missed out but he is going to be a big player for the future of this club.

“He is very refined in how he plays. He presses the game and the ball. He is hungry for the ball and that is what we want.”

Rodgers will make some changes to his side for tomorrow’s Premiership fixture at home to St Johnstone but is determined there will be no drop in intensity as they resume the defence of their domestic title.

“Next Thursday away to 
Zenit is a vital game for us but so is Sunday,” he said. “I have got players who are champing at the bit to play. We will be hungry to get the three points and it will be a stuffy game because St Johnstone are organised and make it difficult for you. Some of the other boys will come in because others played on Thursday but at the end of the day it is the three points we are after.”