BRENDAN RODGERS will be keeping his eye on the Treble prize over the next month or two, while at the same time recognising that some players may benefit from a rest as the league campaign draws to a close.
Celtic didn’t win the title in March, thanks to Aberdeen’s emphatic 7-0 hammering of Dundee last night so attention turns to Tynecastle tomorrow which gives the team their first opportunity to do the job for themselves.
If that doesn’t happen then Inverness Caley Thistle, at home to Aberdeen on Tuesday could make Celtic six in a row Champions but if the Dons win in the Highlands to maintain their very impressive run of form, then it will surely happen at Parkhead in the big Glasgow Derby on Wednesday when Patrick Thistle come calling.
Inevitably Rodgers is planning ahead. He is looking at giving a few a well earned rest but is mindful of taking the foot off the gas ahead of the Scottish Cup semi final against Sevco Rangers.
And with the SPFL confirming yesterday that the post split game against third placed Sevco Rangers will take place on Saturday April 29, 6 days after the sides meet at Hampden, then there will be no match-off for any of the players until May at least.
With the finally penny dropping at the SFA, Gordon Strachan has realized that by playing the players from the best team in the country you are more likely to win the odd game or two. Six Celts at least are likely to be in his side to face England on June 10, a fixture that falls only 9 days before the Celtic players are scheduled to return from their summer holidays to resume pre-season training!
Rodgers had all of this on his mind at yesterday’s press conference, as he talked about the pros and cons of resting players over the remaining two months of the season.
“There would be quite a few I would have a look at, not just the Scotland players. And not pre-semi-final because you are in danger of breaking rhythm,” Rodgers stated.
“We have got Hearts on Sunday, Partick during the week. Say they played Partick, then you maybe gave them a rest for Kilmarnock and Ross County thinking you are doing them a favour.
“You have then got (Sevco) Rangers after that. The timeline is too great,” believes the Celtic boss.
“For a football player, you need to be in rhythm, you need to play. It’s just a case of managing it because obviously it’s a big game for us.
“You take each individual and have a look at it to see when you can give them rest.
“I have to look after the welfare of the players. That is what I’ve always done because I have to manage forward if we are going to go into the Champions League qualifiers.
And Rodgers also recognizes that the return of the winter break this season has been crucial in allowing him to handle this remarkably busy season which started in July and will finish mid June for some of his squad, including captain Scott Brown.
“I think it is an absolute bonus and so important that you have the mid-season break. Imagine we never had that?” asked Rodgers.
“We will just look at it and assess it, but it won’t be in the next month. After that we may be able to have a look at it.”
“I am not one who is going to stop any player playing for his country.
“Thankfully here all the Scottish boys love playing for their country.
“My responsibility is for Celtic. I need to ensure that this is the club that is paying their wages and paying them good wages. I need to make sure that that availability is right for us.
“But I respect that these guys are international players. That is where they should want to go in their careers.
“If I can help them and assist that on and off the field I will happily do that.”
Rodgers confirmed that he has spoken to Brown and as CQN reported yesterday, has given him the green light to play in the Auld Enemy clash at Hampden.
“I wanted to remove any sort of burden that might have been on his mind, to make sure he was fine,” Rodgers revealed.
“We had a good chat, which will be private, and on one or two other things within that.
“It’s a big game and it could be a real defining game.
“If he’s played in the England game away and he’s played in the last one, it’s difficult not to play in the other ones.
“It’s about helping him, giving him the confidence that: Okay, play in it, but this is how it’s going to look before and after.
And looking ahead to the summer Rodgers made some interesting points about the fitness levels of the squad returning at the start of the campaign.
“I think we will be in a totally different place this summer compared to last.
“Last year I felt a lot of the players weren’t fit when they came back, for whatever reason.
“They are going to come back fit this year and then it’s a case of adding to it.
“We had the mid-season break and some of the other boys who have been playing have had days off here and there, like Mika (Lustig) and Scotty (Brown).
“So it’s a case of just sitting with the staff and looking at the whole group in outline and trying to make an organised plan for them so they know exactly where they’re at.”