They only need a point to qualify for the knockout stage of the Europa League but Brendan Rodgers insists it would be “unworkable” for Celtic to play for a draw against Salzburg tonight.
The Austrian side arrive in Glasgow having won their first five Group B matches and are already through to the last 32 of Europe’s second-tier tournament. Celtic can join them in Monday’s draw if they can avoid defeat but they will go into the last fixture in the pool focused on winning, according to their manager.
“We know it’s a tough test for us,” said Rodgers. “But with everything and knowing we need a result it’s not workable to play for a draw. That doesn’t happen in football. You go out to win and see how the game evolves and take it from there.
“People say play for a draw, that’s unworkable. The mentality for us is we go to win. And that’s how we play a game. We play a game to not concede a goal, be aggressive and this is a similar idea. There comes a point in a game, with five or ten minutes to go, when it becomes slightly different.”
Celtic go into the game in good form. They are unbeaten in ten matches and turned in their best performance of the season at the weekend when they dismantled Kilmarnock 5-1, dislodging the Ayrshire side from the top of the table. Their Europa League campaign has also gathered momentum. After away defeats against Salzburg and RB Leipzig, Rodgers’ side have beaten the German team at home and then won in Norway against Rosenborg. The Austrian group winners are a formidable side but have little to play for and Rodgers is hoping a full house at Celtic Park can intimidate the opposition.
“It has the feel of a big game, a game that we are really, really looking forward to,” he said. “And rightly so because of our form, and not just how we have been playing in the last two to three months.
“In European competition, we have got better and better as the competitions have gone on. We maybe start off a bit slow, but we have always got better. We know it’s tough test for us but we know we need a result.
“It should be an incredible atmosphere, the wall of noise that comes from the stadium. The Salzburg guys, some of them won’t have experienced it before and for us it’s a great energy for our team and how we play. So we look to get the job done.
“They come into it having won five games, they have a great record, but our focus is just to continue with our game and how we have been playing, knowing they are a good side, and show our true face.
“We didn’t do that in Salzburg but the Leipzig game at home we showed our true selves and this is an opportunity for them.”
While Salzburg have nothing to play for Rodgers is wary that this could help the visitors by allowing them to relax and express themselves.
“They could actually play with more freedom knowing that they are qualified,” the Celtic manager acknowledged. “I can’t control that. What I can control is how we play. And we arrive in to the game with confidence and belief and we have to keep rolling that out, and hopefully get the job done, which would be a fantastic achievement for us, given the level of team in the group.
It could be a landmark occasion for Celtic in another way. In 15 continental group campaigns, they have never qualified at expense of a team from one of Europe’s top five nations. Success tonight would see them edge out Leipzig.
“It has never been done because it is so difficult to do,” said Rodgers. “You look at the power of Leipzig and where they sit in their league, and look at Salzburg with the power that whole Red Bull organisation has – we’ve put ourselves in a really good position. You only want it to be in your hands, it is in our hands and we want to grab that.”