BRENDAN RODGERS has revealed he held heart-to-heart talks with Jozo Simunovic ahead of Celtic’s Europa League clash with Zenit St Petersburg.
The Hoops boss kept faith with his centre-half for the first leg against the Russians and was rewarded with what was arguably the Bosnian’s best game of the season.
“Yeah, well I had a good chat with him and reiterated to him that he will not achieve the levels that I think he can if he is not concentrated,” he said.
“It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t matter if it’s Partick Thistle, St Petersburg or St Johnstone – you have to be concentrated in your game.
“You saw him tonight, he was brilliant. But that’s what you have to be.
“We had him at 23 years old. Kris Ajer is 19, Kieran Tierney is 20, Eboue Kouassi (20), Oliver Ntcham and Moussa Demeble (21) – these are young players you are talking about.
“The concentration and maturity they showed against Zenit was very pleasing.”
The Celtic boss also explained his thinking behind leaving Scott Sinclair out against the Russians.
“Scotty has been absolutely brilliant, as have most of the guys,” he said. “We go into every game with a plan, and we felt the shape of the team tonight would go into three-diamond-three.
“We had a winger on one side and Kieran pushing on the other.
“We have three very good midfield players, but we wanted to have four in there to have the dominance of the ball – to do that with four v three in midfield. We could have played Scotty at the top of the diamond, but he might end up going right up front and then we’d lose that superiority in midfield.”
The selections were vindicated. Come Thursday night, the Hoops will carry a 1-0 advantage into the return leg in St Petersburg’s Krestovsky Stadium.
“We will need to be concentrated. We have the ability to play football and create and score goals,” said Rodgers.
“It will be a big test for us over there. They are renowned as a top European side and have spent a lot of money on their team, too. They will be looking to go far in the competition.
“It’s a lovely pitch, a perfect pitch for us to go and play. In my time we have done well over the course of two legs, but it will be another tough night.”