Brendan Rodgers believes Celtic and their supporters may be poised for a season-long struggle to rediscover the attacking potency which led them to back-to-back domestic trebles.
The Celtic manager has admitted his team are “nowhere near” their desired performance levels so far in the current campaign which has featured several listless displays.
The Scottish champions toiled to find any sustained fluency again on Thursday night when they needed an 87th-minute goal from substitute Leigh Griffiths to open their Europa League Group B bid with a 1-0 home win over Rosenborg.
Aside from a dominant victory over Rangers at the start of this month, Celtic’s domestic form has also been generally below-par. They have scored just five goals in their opening five league games, their poorest return at this stage of a season for 25 years.
But as they continue to adjust to the loss of striker Moussa Dembele in the closing hours of the summer transfer window, Rodgers is adamant his squad can find alternative ways to achieve the results needed to maintain the supremacy they have established in Scottish football.
“We haven’t been as dynamic as we have been in the last couple of years,” said Rodgers. “It might be a season for us like that, but we will always find a way and try to find a solution to perform well because performing, for me, is very, very important.
“I don’t think we are anywhere near the level of our game at the moment. The win against Rosenborg was probably down to spirit and persistence.
“I said last week when we drew 0-0 at St Mirren, even with 10 men, we were dominant. But it’s just in that final third [we have problems].
“It’s a mixture of confidence and not being dynamic enough at times. So that is allowing us not to be decisive enough in games. Whilst we are not conceding – that’s five clean sheets in a row for us now – you just have to keep going. You have to be persistent and you have to trust right to the very end that we will get the goal.
“Why are we lacking dynamism? I’m not sure. It’s a bit of everything really. We lost dynamic players in the summer. We have had lots of games. We just have to continue to work hard on the training field and win games like Thursday when you are not at your best.
“Being able to win and not give away much is important because that helps your confidence and you grow and grow from there. Will the dynamism return as results improve? Absolutely.
“This squad are very honest, a brilliant bunch of boys to work with. You can’t score perfect goals all the time. That’s probably the bit that’s missing right not.
“When we get into the final third of the pitch, you see balls where they just need a bit of subtlety and a bit of softness for a pullback. But we’re rifling the ball across, and you have no chance to finish. It’s just time.
“The boys put a great effort into the game against Rosenborg. I asked them to have this resilience but to have great spirit and persistence to keep going, and they did that.”
Celtic will resume their bid for an eighth consecutive league title when they travel to face Kilmarnock at Rugby Park tomorrow. If current Premiership leaders Hearts maintain their 100 per cent record by beating Livingston at Tynecastle today, the defending champions would go into their match eight points behind.
Rodgers is prepared for another awkward assignment against Steve Clarke’s side who defeated Celtic 1-0 when the teams last met at Rugby Park in February.
“For us it’s just a case of recovering as best as we can after Rosenborg and it’s why we’ve also got a big squad,” added Rodgers.
“It will be a tough game for us at Kilmarnock on the artificial surface. Steve’s teams are always well organised and hard to break down, counter attacking with quick players. So, yes, it will be hard for us.”
As his team’s defensive solidity helps them compensate for their present difficulties in scoring as many goals as Rodgers would like, he has been impressed by the early impact of loan signing Filip Benkovic. The Leicester City defender earned praise for his assured display against Rosenborg.
“Filip is just finding his way with us,” said Rodgers. “When the ball comes into the box and you are under a bit of pressure from set-pieces and crosses, you’re looking at a centre-half who can really go and head it. I thought he was very good at that.
“His distribution of the ball was also good. He will find more comfort the more he plays and once he understands how we play a bit more. For 21, he is very promising.”