Rodgers hopes increased competition for places boosts Hoops title charge

The champions go into the break at the top of the league and have a host of influential players set to return.

Brendan Rodgers hopes increased competition for places boosts Celtic campaign SNS Group

Brendan Rodgers is excited for the title run in after Celtic regained top spot and have a host of important players on their way back from injury.

The champions go into the international break a point ahead of Rangers, who have a game in hand, following their 3-1 win over St Johnstone on Saturday.

The Ibrox side had their game against Dundee on Sunday postponed due to a waterlogged pitch meaning Celtic remain in second spot.

And Rodgers is excited about the impact increased options and competition will have on his team – provided his players come through their international duties unscathed.

The Hoops boss was without the injured Callum McGregor, Liam Scales, Reo Hatate, Maik Nawrocki, Luis Palma and the suspended Yang Hyun-jun for the 3-1 win over St Johnstone on Saturday.

All of them are expected to return soon after the break and could all be in contention for the game at Livingston when the league resumes on March 30.

Cameron Carter-Vickers was also back in action as Celtic comfortably defeated Craig Levein’s side – he had been taken off for a rest before Connor Smith’s consolation goal.

Nicolas Kuhn and Kyogo Furuhashi both produced a goal and assist each, the latter having replaced Adam Idah in the starting line-up, and substitute James Forrest netted in a victory that could have been more emphatic.

Kyogo also had two goals disallowed and hit the bar with Alistair Johnston also falling foul of a marginal offside decision after finding the roof of the net.

Rodgers said: “Those options of quality will hopefully be there for us even more after the break.

“You see the difference with Cameron Carter-Vickers in the team, everything just gets shored up.

“Having Callum McGregor back, Reo Hatate, some of the other guys coming back, Scalesy. It will actually help him a little bit having a rest because he has played every minute of every game virtually.

“So by the time we get back after this break we are going to be in a really strong position, hopefully.

“I am so excited about seeing that team and how it functions in this last part of the season.

“Competition is so important and that’s probably what we haven’t quite had through the course of the season. Players have had to play lots of games when we would like to freshen it up.

“And you see the difference in Kyogo, from bringing in a really good striker in Adam, who has come in and done well. So you know that when you come in, you have got to perform.”

Carter-Vickers was left out of the United States squad as he tries to avoid the recurrence of the hamstring problem that has dogged him this season. Palma’s calf injury ruled him out of the Honduras squad and Scales is a doubt for the Republic of Ireland.

But the likes of Johnston, Idah, Greg Taylor, Anthony Ralston, Matt O’Riley, Odin Thiago Holm, Paulo Bernardo, Daniel Kelly and Daizen Maeda are all on their travels.

When asked if he had spoken to any international managers about his players, Rodgers said: “The only one I spoke to was Gregg (Berhalter) at the US team. Obviously the case with Cam, who has been out for a bit, I was just worried he would go away and be involved in a couple of games when their big games are more later on in June.

“We had a good chat and it was decided that he stays behind and does his work for us and tries to remain fit for the rest of the season.

“You always have to respect international managers’ job as well and I also respect that players want to play international football.

“Fingers crossed they all come back healthy and we have a strong squad.”

St Johnstone manager Levein praised his substitutes after Stevie May’s header led to Smith’s goal.

“After the Dundee game a month ago, I was complaining about the lack of difference after I introduced some substitutes,” he said.

“This time I thought Tony (Gallacher), Max (Kucheriavyi), Connor and Stevie May brought new life to the team.

“We scored a really good goal and looked a bit better in possession.

“Our guys could easily have folded in the second half. They didn’t, they kept going. They displayed guts and effort.”

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code
Posted in