Brendan Rodgers admits he would have preferred to play a Scottish Premiership game yesterday, instead of a glamour friendly with Inter Milan in Ireland.
Celtic warmed up for their Champions League play-off with Hapoel Be’er Sheva with a 2-0 defeat by the Italians in Limerick, as part of the International Champions Cup.
Rodgers left the majority of his first team starters in Glasgow, where the club had been scheduled to play Partick Thistle in league action, a fixture that was controversially postponed.
“We’ve played about seven games in 20-odd days, so it was the perfect preparation for us,” Rodgers said. “But my own feeling, coming up to Scotland is I don’t think we should be playing a friendly. That’s my personal take on it. The league has started, we should be playing competitive football.
“We had a lot of friendlies already… to come here commercially it’s great, for the fans it great, we travel the world and we want to take the team around, but from a football perspective, I’d rather be playing a competition.
“The players back home, though, they have played midweek, weekend, so to get an opportunity to recover is good. They worked really hard on Saturday morning, they weren’t sitting on their holiday, they’re getting ready for Wednesday.”
Most of the players expected to play on Wednesday night didn’t even make it to Glasgow Airport’s departure lounge with Scott Sinclair, Kolo Toure, Craig Gordon, Scott Brown, Leigh Griffiths, Kieran Tierney, Patrick Roberts, Moussa Dembele, Nir Bitton, Tom Rogic, Callum McGregor and James Forrest left behind.
As a sign of his growing importance to the Celtic squad, even Eoghan O’Connell was left in Scotland, missing the opportunity to play on the ground that made his cousin Paul a Munster rugby legend.
All told, Stuart Armstrong and Saidy Janko were the only players starting who also started against Astana ten days ago.
There was a welcome return to action for Dedryck Boyata, the centre half, playing alongside the 19-year-old academy product Jamie McCart.
Kirstoffer Ajer covered in front of the back four, with Liam Henderson and Stefan Johansen supporting Armstrong, Ryan Christie and captain for the day Nadir Ciftci in attack.
Despite the mix and match nature of the Celtic side, the first half was relatively interesting, with some of Rodgers’ fringe stars impressing. Leo Fasan, in goal, showed he’s up for a fight following the arrival of Dorus de Vries, with a solid first half performance blotted only by Eder’s headed goal.
The 22-year-old did well to deny Ever Banega with a strong one-arm save just two minutes in, and denied Ivan Perisic moments later after a miscommunication with Boyata.
The experienced Inter midfield enjoyed the better of the first half play, but Rodgers will have been impressed by how Liam Henderson and Kristoffer Ajer grew into the challenge.
Fasan punched clear a thumping effort by Eder as the break approached, and it looked set to end scoreless until naive defending at a set piece cost Celtic, with Eder nipping in ahead of Janko at the back post to nod home.
Efe Ambrose, a half time sub, headed narrowly over after the restart, before Ciftci almost completed the move of the match, only to see his volley come back off the crossbar. But when Frank De Boer sent on Antonio Candreva and Felipe Melo, the former showed his class with a stunning chip over Fasan to seal victory.