Rodgers urges focus as Gerrard seeks strong start
Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers needs a positive result against Leipzig at Parkhead to avoid being knocked out of Europe (pic: SNS Group)
Lack of progress on the European stage has been a source of real frustration for Brendan Rodgers, with his Celtic players continually fluffing their lines in recent times.
Performing well domestically has never been a problem for the Hoops, with back-to-back Trebles safely in the Parkhead trophy room.
Competing against some of Europe’s elite, however, has been a different challenge entirely with Rodgers’ side often found out of its depth.
Dumped out of the Champions League qualifiers this season, the second-tier Europa League consolation prize has not been without difficulties.
A solitary victory over Rosenborg combined with defeats to RB Leipzig and Group B leaders Salzburg has left Celtic with it all to do to reach the knockout stages of the competition.
Next up is the visit of Leipzig, comfortable 2-0 winners when the teams met in Germany last month.
Rodgers wants his players to seize the moment tomorrow night and grab the victory to keep their hopes alive. Freeze under the lights and it will be curtains.
He said: “It’s a very, very good side that we’re playing against. We have to show our true face in the game. We always have something to prove whether it’s domestically or in Europe. That doesn’t stop.
“In Europe, I’m very realistic of where we’re at in relation to the team and everything and the level that we compete at domestically but that doesn’t stop us wanting to gain really good results.
“We will fight to the very end to qualify. It’s a very good group but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. We have to move on.”
If Celtic lose and Salzburg avoid defeat to pointless Rosenborg, then another disappointing European campaign will fizzle out.
“If we’re to progress or have any opportunity to progress out of the group, it’s a game we really have to win,” added Rodgers, who saw his team respond to that Leipzig loss with a hat-trick of impressive domestic wins, rattling in 13 goals without reply in the process.
“At this level, you can’t afford to be timid. People will look at it as a pressure game. Not every pressure situation is a negative. We’ve seen the pressure moments as opportunities to go and show your qualities.
“It’s always a different game at Celtic Park. We know that we’re playing at a much better level and we’ll need to be at the very highest level to get the result.”
Steven Gerrard is looking to stretch his unbeaten run in Europe as Rangers manager (pic: SNS Group)
Gerrard looking to keep impressive European run going
Steven Gerrard has yet to taste defeat in Europe as Rangers manager and is looking to stretch that unbeaten run to an incredible 12 games against Spartak Moscow.
The Light Blues have surpassed expectations in the Europa League this season, going into the match at the Otkritie Arena sitting on top of Group G.
The home side are propping up the table but may see the match as a welcome distraction from the pressures of their domestic season after four successive defeats.
“I am aware of how the group stands at the moment and I don’t think a draw does Spartak any favours,” said Gerrard.
“I’m aware they have to go for the win. Whether they decide to go gung-ho or have a more patient approach, we’ll have to wait and see.
“We don’t want to play in a shell like we did in the first 45 minutes at Villarreal. We want to really start strong and really show Spartak and all their supporters our intent on the night, and that’s to come here and do everything we can to get a good result.
“The players have really embraced every challenge that’s been put in front of them on the European run, whether that be home or away. We have been defensively very good, very solid and aggressive and difficult to play against whilst still carrying a threat at the other end, and it’s worked for us so far.
“But we do realise Spartak have very dangerous players, good players. I’m sure they are a little bit wounded by their own form of late, so we are respectful and realise that they might come flying out the blocks. And if that’s the case, we have to be ready for it.”
Gerrard suffered a double injury blow ahead of the match with both Kyle Lafferty and Ryan Kent ruled out, the latter reportedly sidelined until January with a hamstring problem.
“It’s an opportunity for someone else, certainly over the next couple of games, to come in and express themselves,” said Gerrard.
“But there’s no getting away from it that it’s a big disappointment for myself and the team because Ryan has been in fantastic form and is a real threat for us.
“But I’m sure other people are chomping at the bit for an opportunity.”