The outstanding financial results that Celtic published yesterday could have included one more arresting figure.
In recent times it is doubtful that there has ever been a period where they could have posted a higher total for the number of integral players sidelined by injury.
Brendan Rodgers confirmed yesterday that the groin strain sustained by Dedryck Boyata in the loss at Kilmarnock last weekend will keep him out for at least a fortnight, so rendering him unavailable for next Thursday’s Europa League last 32 first leg at home to Zenit St Petersburg.
Now, few Scottish rivals will have any great sympathy over the fact that the Belgian will probably be one of ten first-team players Rodgers will be unable to call upon for the Scottish Cup fifth round tie at home to Partick Thistle tomorrow. Celtic, with financial muscle that sets them apart on the domestic front, have the depth of squad to cope with such fitness issues in their quest for an unprecedented second successive treble. Even so, Boyata’s loss is likely to result in a central defensive partnership Celtic have fielded only once previously in the form of Kristoffer Ajer – who should shake off an ankle problem that forced him off at Rugby Park – and Jozo Simunovic. New signing Jack Hendry is also an option.
But the absence of continuity in all aspects of the side must be considered a factor in the Scottish champions lacking the conviction they exhibited as they earned the tag of domestic invincibles in Rodgers’ first campaign. They looked creatively bereft at Rugby Park in a match that brought only the second domestic defeat of Rodgers’ 20-month tenure.
It was not an ever-changing line-up but an unyielding plastic pitch he sought to blame for the poorest attacking display of his reign.
“I think there’s no getting away from it,” Rodgers said. “I was obviously disappointed in terms of what we created but I could never say we have gone to Kilmarnock in my time here and been battering down the door. Because of the surface it’s never been the case. We’ve won 1-0, 2-0 there. I think the pitch, smaller this year, it was dry, so for me I never got too hung up about the score last week because the boys gave everything. Stevie [Clarke]’s teams are well organised, they drop deep, and when you have that type of opponent you have to be able to play one and two-touch quickly to open up the gaps and that was near on impossible. It was similar to the game in Gibraltar [when Celtic lost 1-0 in a Champions League qualifying game in July 2016] in relation to the pitch. It is a real leveller and can make it difficult for you. But you take that.”
Despite Celtic’s uneven form, they would take any form of treble – hopes of which go on the line against the Maryhill men this weekend. The Scottish Cup is held in higher regard than the FA Cup in England and its importance to Celtic’s season means there will be no thoughts of resting players with an eye on Zenit’s visit five days later.
The disfiguring of English football by the money riding on retaining a berth, or gaining one, in the Premier League sometimes seems to reduce the FA Cup to a nuisance trophy only worthy of fielding reserve sides in.
“I sensed on the day of the Scottish Cup final [against Aberdeen last May] there was a real special feeling,” Rodgers said. “It is a competition that gets held in high regard and rightly so. Teams want to be in it and win it. There’s different reasons down south why teams don’t put strong teams out, but the narrative to everyone is to win it and do the best you can. That’s what we’ve done in every competition since I’ve been here.”