BRENDAN RODGERS believes Celtic are now better placed than ever to have a crack at the Champions League.
The team may have finished bottom of Group C with three points – the first time in nine group stage outings they’ve never won a match – but the Hoops boss sees nothing but positives.

Rodgers has been enthused by the recent performances of his players with the 1-1 draw against Manchester City at the Etihad on Tuesday following last month’s 1-1 stalemate against Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany.proxy

Both displays were light years away from the tame 90 minutes against Barcelona in the Nou Camp at the start of the group campaign and totally unrecognisable from the abject showing against Lincoln Red Imps back in mid-July.
Rodgers said: “It’s fair to say we’ve come a long way from the first game we played on the astro in Gibraltar.
“I never thought we wouldn’t make it through to the next round, but the game was a nice little wake-up for the players.

“There had been a lot of the good work done over the pre-season, but that match showed there was still a way to go with these players in terms of their belief.

“Defeats like that can happen, with the pitch and everything else, but it sharpened the teeth in many aspects of what we wanted to do. That defeat was supposedly embarrassing, but I knew when we got home we would win the tie. It also told me a couple of wee things early on about the fragility of the side.

“We’ve developed to the point where on Tuesday night, no matter the changes City made, we imposed our calmness and quality on a starting line-up that would still finish towards the top end of the Premier League.


“The campaign has gone from that first game in Gibraltar to taking draws that could easily have been wins at two really tough venues in Monchengladbach and Manchester.

“It shows we have grown and this is what this year was probably going to be about. Hopefully, we can make the next step a year further down the line.”

Celtic may have survived a scare or two en route to qualification for the group stages, which has netted them £27.5million in prize money before gate receipts from three capacity Parkhead crowds.

Looking ahead, Rodgers said: “We will always be in a tough group, because any Scottish team will always be in that pot four. The spin on that is that this season was brilliant for us because you improve when you work and play against the best.ctf_hxbw8aao3on-620x336

“Our players were playing against the best in this group and it was a good measure for them. It’s safe to say that, from the beginning to how it went on, they did Scotland very proud.

“They showed they can operate and function at the highest level of the game and with so much improvement still to come. That gives us great confidence going forward.

“We’re still a long way off where I want to be, but it’s starting to flow better. We build and consolidate the game. We’re incisive with our movement and passing in the game, as well as our finishing.

“The scale of our budget compared to others is night and day, so we have to be different in terms of a game model and way of playing that can disrupt an opponent.

“In the main, my teams have always been aggressive when they defend, they press the game and never give the opposition a minute’s peace. When they have the ball they show the courage and bravery to play to a high level, technically and tactically.

“Slowly, we’re starting to see that now on the bigger stages. It’s okay doing it in other games domestically, but can you go and impose it in the biggest jungles in the world?

“We can participate in the Champions League, but we need to be competitive and in a way that allows us to express ourselves.

“That’s a mindset. You can sit off and suffer and sit in the box for 85 minutes, but I like to be the aggressor.”

The Celtic gaffer added: “I am absolutely loving walking into the club, working with the players and there is no better feeling when you are a manager seeing the relationship between training and the game.

“There will be no problems maintaining intensity. That’s the motivation, what you get paid for. The players must keep striving to be the best they can be.”

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