Celtic utility man Nir Bitton has had to adapt in order to survive at Parkhead. The Israel playmaker has been used more often as a central defender this season, but that’s nothing to the changes which have been made to the entire club since Brendan Rodgers replaced Ronny Deila in the summer of 2016.
Tomorrow the champions head to Tynecastle as Hearts become the latest team to attempt to end Celtic’s unbeaten domestic run, which was stretched to 69 games following Wednesday’s 3-1 win over Hamilton. Bitton and his team-mates derive great satisfaction from that sequence, but the 26-year-old is irked by the fact that their achievement has been either ignored or under-rated by pundits and punters alike.
“A lot of people take what we do in the Premiership for granted, but it wasn’t like that before Brendan came. It wasn’t easy,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter how many games we’ve gone unbeaten – he wants us to make it more and more and prove that we are the best team in Scotland.
“The gaffer insists all the time we must be ruthless and he is right. You saw last weekend when we were 2-0 up [against Hibernian] and cruising through the game. Then we switched off for ten minutes and ended up drawing and we could have lost the game.
“Even if you are leading by one, two or three you have to keep going and try and score more goals.”
The capital clash will be Celtic’s 34th competitive match this season and fatigue has played a part in some of the points which they have dropped in recent weeks.
“I think a lot of people look at us and saying ‘he’s a footballer – he doesn’t do much’,” he said. “But it’s hard. You are not outside working in the cold all the time or working with your hands but you are still working hard and you have to make a lot of sacrifices in life.
“People on the outside take what we do for granted. They say: ‘Oh, Celtic are playing Hamilton so they should be winning 4-0 at half time’ but it’s not like that it’s never easy.
“All the teams we face want to take our unbeaten run. We’ve lost more points this season than last season so it’s difficult.”
Rodgers, meanwhile, claims that his players – five points and 13 goals better off than second-placed Rangers, having played a game fewer – will be even more formidable in 2018.
“We’ll be better,” he stressed. “I said the same last year. You put so much in to the first half of the season but when we get to the break we’ll hit the re-set button again. We’ll have more coaching and working time so I’ve no doubt we will be better.
“There’s a long way to go once we get to January but this has been a tough run of games. I’ve nothing but admiration for the players.
“It’s not just what they’ve done in the 69 games – it’s what they have done every day in training. It’s what we do to shape that mentality because if they feel they can go lazy in training then they can go lazy in games.
“They might not have been always at their best but they have always given their best and their qualities have come through. That starts here at Lennoxtown. Everything is right in terms of the training, sports science, nutrition, analysis, how they can improve.
“They are a very hungry group who are willing to learn and they have that willingness to win.”