Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has backed Stuart Armstrong to make his mark in central midfield for club and country.
Armstrong started and scored in Celtic’s 4-0 victory over Ross County on Wednesday night as one of two central midfielders behind an attacking four, after impressing off the bench during Sunday’s Betfred Cup win over Rangers.
Rodgers admitted he has worked on the 24-year-old’s confidence and tactical knowledge since arriving in the summer ahead of the midfielder’s second full season at Parkhead.
“He has played a lot of his time here on the left side, which I can understand why maybe managers would play him there, because he is very diligent and works well and he has an eye for goal,” Rodgers said.
“But we spoke to him a lot in pre-season in terms of his position and where he felt most comfortable, and at that time it was maybe difficult for him to get a game in his preferred position.
“But what he has done, each day from that, he has looked to improve and understand the tactical element of playing on the inside. He’s got a wonderful intelligence. He’s a good footballer, Stuart, and he’s improving tactically all the time.
“Technically he is strong, his finish on Wednesday night I see in training every day. He has a wonderful strike in him, different types of finishes.
“Physically he is very good. Our first goal came from his ability to press the ball very quickly, and his goal, he spotted the space and showed great speed.”
Rodgers believes Armstrong should occupy any of the three central midfield positions, including an advanced role, rather than a wide position.
And he feels he can get to the level where his first Scotland cap is in sight. The former Dundee United player won his first call-up in June 2013 but has never featured and has not been in Gordon Strachan’s recent squads.
“He has come into one of the biggest clubs in the world and it sometimes takes that little bit of time to find your feet,” Rodgers said.
“But he has definitely found his feet, he is a player I really enjoy working with, he is super-bright and thinks about the game and his role in the team.
“He is starting to flourish now and it’s down to him, getting the confidence to play the role, understand his job. Anywhere centrally where he can use his power and pace to break forward, that’s his best position. Hopefully over the coming years you will really see the best of him.
“If he keeps improving and showing those levels, there is absolutely no question he is a player that can feature for his national team.”
Armstrong was one of eight players to come into the starting line-up in Dingwall as Rodgers utilised his squad ahead of trips to Aberdeen and Monchengladbach in the following six days.
Cristian Gamboa, Emilio Izaguirre, Patrick Roberts, Ryan Christie, Liam Henderson, Callum McGregor and Leigh Griffiths all earned starts and Rodgers was delighted with the way they responded.
“The players that are not playing so regularly are not down,” he said. “They obviously want to play football but they go into every training session giving their maximum and that means the tempo and quality of our training is at high level.
“So it allows them to go into a game at a difficult venue and help get a great result. It probably demonstrates the trust in the squad I have here.
“It reinforces the professionalism. Because it’s very easy to look after the ones that are playing but our job here as coaches and management is to ensure the players are not featuring so much fell very much part of it. That allows them to be motivated and committed to what we want to achieve this year.
“If they are not working hard, not looking after their diet, not preparing themselves well, then you can’t go into that game and make that many changes and play with that level of intensity. So it’s a huge credit to them and how they are looking after themselves and resting and recovering and training.”