Dedryck Boyata: Celtic defenders running on adrenaline

Having sat out the first two months of Celtic's season through injury, Dedryck Boyata hasn't missed a single minute of their last seven matches since returning to the heart of the Scottish champions' defence.

Celtic's Dedryck Boyata in training. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Celtic's Dedryck Boyata in training. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

Tonight at Pittodrie, the Belgian international will make his eighth appearance in just 36 days as Brendan Rodgers side attempt to put clear water between themselves and an Aberdeen side who have impressively matched their unbeaten start to the Premiership campaign.

You won’t find Boyata complaining about his current heavy schedule. The 26-year-old has suffered too many enforced absences during his time at Celtic to do anything other than relish and enjoy his role in a run of significant games at both domestic and European level.

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But as the last recognised first-team central defender standing at the club, with both Jozo Simunovic and Erik Sviatchenko currently sidelined by injuries, Boyata admits the demanding sequence of fixtures is taking its toll.

Celtic's Dedryck Boyata in training. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

“I’m feeling pretty tired,” he said. “It’s definitely been a hard week, especially playing three games in seven days after the Champions League in Munich last Wednesday and then the League Cup semi-final against Hibs on Saturday.

“We’re fine though. We have another game on Wednesday night and we’ll just prepare for that again.

“With the situation we’re in with a lot of injuries, when it comes to managing myself and how much I play, if the other centre-backs had been there, then maybe it would have been different.

“But the manager has 100 per cent faith in me and he would never risk me. If he felt I wasn’t ready, he wouldn’t put me on the pitch.

Celtic's Dedryck Boyata in training. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

“The adrenaline keeps you going in a way.

“When you play only one game a week, it can feel very long sometimes. When the next game is seven days away, it can seem far away. So when you are playing every two or three days, you are always doing something. Physically, it isn’t the best, but we are working hard to stay on top of our game and being fit for every game.

“We went from Champions League to the semi-final and now we’re playing a team in the league that have the same points as us, so it’s going to be tough. That’s why we’re here though, to play games, have big challenges and we are up for it.”

During a six-month lay-off last year, Boyata attracted headlines when it emerged he was making midnight visits to the Celtic training ground in Lennoxtown for solo sessions in his determined efforts to recover full fitness. His spare time now is more likely to be spent in bed.

“No, those trips to the gym would be impossible just now,” he smiled. “It’s definitely a big contrast, it’s not the same right now for me. I’m playing every game and I’m still coming back from injury, so that means I still have a lot of work to do on the fitness side and it’s difficult to find the time to do the right rehab for the injury I had.

“I was going to the gym before because I wasn’t playing. Today I’m playing so I’m very happy to be in this position. I’m training every day, but don’t get me wrong, if I feel it’s not possible to train, I just have to say.

“We’re working with good physios and sports scientists, and they look at our numbers and if something seems wrong they will put us on the sidelines.”

Boyata is the current mainstay of a back four in which both right-back Mikael Lustig and midfielder Nir Bitton have stepped in as temporary central defensive partners in recent weeks.

“I’ve always been a defender who likes to take responsibility,” added Boyata. “I talk a lot on the pitch and try to help my teammates and the people around me.

“In this position we’re in at the moment we are missing two of our experienced centre-backs and I’m the only one left, but Nir is doing well when he’s in and Mikael is doing well too. We’re helping each other. It’s not easy, but at the moment we are doing fine.”

Boyata is wary of the threat Aberdeen could pose to Celtic’s current 60-game unbeaten domestic run and is not surprised they are maintaining their status as the most likely challengers to the supremacy of Rodgers’ men.

“We knew from the beginning they are not an easy team,” he said. “They have good quality players. They showed it last season and the season before.

“They lost Jonny Hayes to us in the summer but they have Ryan Christie, although he can’t play against us, and now Gary Mackay-Steven. They are very good players.

“Them being in this position is therefore not a surprise because they’ve shown this before.

“They are also playing very well. It will be a very important one for us because obviously we have the same points. Aberdeen are doing fine for the moment and we know it is very difficult there. I have been twice and it is definitely not easy. But, as I said, we can cope with anything.”