Celtic first-team coach John Kennedy refuses to admit tonight’s Dublin meeting with Barcelona is a game too far for his club – despite the encounter being sandwiched between Champions League qualifiers against FC Astana that could shape not just the season but the entire reign of new manager Brendan Rodgers.
Celtic found themselves back in Glasgow airport yesterday to board a plane for the Irish capital having only touched down there the previous day from Kazakhstan, where they secured a 1-1 draw which puts them in a strong position to secure progress to the Champions League play-offs come Wednesday’s return.
Kennedy believes that the Aviva Stadium joust with the Catalan giants – who have named Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in their squad for a match that will be played under the banner of the International Champions Cup – can complement preparations for the third round qualifier.
The priority given to the Astana assignment meant that Mikael Lustig was not asked to travel while it was determined that new signing Kolo Toure’s drive for fitness would be better served by undertaking daily session at the club’s Lennoxtown training ground over the weekend.
“We are at the stage now we have a big enough squad to handle it in terms of players who would benefit from playing part of a game. Very few will play 90 minutes,” said Kennedy, who reported that Stefan Johansen did not travel because his wife had given birth yesterday morning.
“It will be like a tough training session for them and it is good to be part of that and test yourself. We can use it to suit players’ needs and there are players that need minutes on the pitch. At the same time, we will have Sunday, Monday Tuesday to prepare for the Astana game.”
Kennedy admitted that centre back options remain stretched, these leading to 20-year-old Eoghan O’Connell being handed a European debut in midweek alongside an Efe Ambrose now perceived as unreliable.
Yet, when asked if Celtic would have to “gamble” in central defence on Wednesday, Kennedy did not seem to rule out Erik Sviatchenko for a midweek comeback, despite the Dane missing the first left with a groin problem expected to sideline him for weeks.
“We are short defensively, there is no question about that,” the 32-year-old said. “Erik [Sviatchenko] is a question mark, Jozo [Simunovic], Dedryck [Boyata] so we are short on numbers there.
“We just have to make sure whatever we put out on the pitch is strong enough to win the game. We just have to deal with tomorrow and see how everyone comes through that. At the back of our minds is Wednesday but we are here to work. On Sunday we can assess everything and see where everyone is at and see what we’ve got “
Toure has not yet be named as Celtic’s wildcard signing for the Champions League tie and any player signed 24 hours before Wednesday’s decider could be so named. Scott Sinclair remains the most likely, with the Aston Villa winger being the subject of three bids from Celtic without them meeting the reported £3.5 million valuation.
“We haven’t made any decision on that [the wildcard]. It depends on how he [Toure] is fitness wise and whether we bring someone else in. So we will make that decision later on. [Scott Sinclair] is still an Aston Villa player at the moment. If we are going to add to the squad with the numbers we have, then we have to make sure they will be the team or challenge and make us better. That’s the type of calibre of player we are looking at.”