Celtic have been hit by yet another injury blow ahead of their Europa League last 32 tie against Zenit St Petersburg tonight with Nir Bitton expected to be ruled out for the rest of the season.
The versatile Israeli international, who has operated in central defence and midfield for the Scottish champions this season, has been told he is likely to face surgery to repair a long-standing knee problem.
Bitton’s absence further diminishes Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers’ options in defence for the challenge posed by Russian side Zenit who are the visitors to Glasgow for tonight’s first leg.
With Dedryck Boyata already ruled out by injury and January signing Marvin Compper ineligible, it leaves Jozo Simunovic and the youthful duo of Kristoffer Ajer and Jack Hendry as the only fit and available recognised central defenders in Celtic’s European squad.
The situation could be further complicated if Simunovic picks up a booking tonight as it would rule him out of the second leg in Saint Petersburg next week.
“It’s a shame for Nir,” said Rodgers as he revealed the latest injury setback for the Premiership leaders.
“He will probably be out for the season which is a blow for us. He had an issue with his knee and probably needs an operation. It’s a slight issue with his knee that he has been playing through but a specialist had a look at it in London last week and it’s been deemed he needs the operation on it.
“As I say, it’s a real shame because he has been an important member of our squad this season.”
Goalkeeper Craig Gordon, midfielder Stuart Armstrong, wingers Patrick Roberts and Jonny Hayes and striker Leigh Griffiths are also on the injury list for Celtic at the moment.
Australian international Tom Rogic is back in full training, but will only be considered for a role on the subs’ bench by Rodgers tonight.
“Overall it’s been a really tough year for us in terms of injuries,” added Rodgers. “Tom will be in the squad, but Patrick still won’t be involved. He’s getting clearance on his hamstring injury, so he has gone back to Manchester City to make sure everything is okay. But we are hoping to get some of the others back sooner rather than later.”