Top Line Summary

  • Reo Hatate and Callum McGregor's return timeline
  • Liam Scales' injury setback
  • Looking for consistency of selection after the international break
  • The future is bright for Daniel Kelly
  • Importance of finishing off the season on a high

Everything that Brendan Rodgers said to the media ahead of the Scottish Premiership game against St Johnstone at Parkhead

In terms of your squad for the weekend. Are there any returnees? Is Reo Hatate potentially an option?

No. Reo is not an option we will look at it after the international break. Thankfully, he is back in training with the squad now and he still has a bit of work to do over the next few weeks in terms of his actual football fitness. It is great to have him back in the squad and he has trained the last few days.

How is Callum McGregor's situation and are you any clearer on when he will be back?

Like I said at the beginning of the process, I expect him to be back at the end of the international break. He's feeling good and he needs to get some work into him over the next week to 10 days. We will assess it for the Livingston game when we get back.

READ MORE: Celtic predicted line-ups for league match vs St Johnstone

How is the rest of the group?

Cameron Carter-Vickers is fine. He has trained and looks good. It is great that he's available. Liam Scales will miss the game as he has picked up a knock in training. He's been so robust and everything about him has been great since he came into the team. Sadly he will miss this game but he has played every other minute and he will be back after the international break as well.

Can I ask you about Matt O'Riley? He was called up again by Denmark this week. Is he a good template as to what Celtic can offer a player with talent and ability in terms of his career trajectory since he moved here?

I think for every player if you have that personality and the desire to learn and to develop then this is a brilliant place for you to come. You come into a genuinely authentic massive club with an opportunity to become a winner. You also have an opportunity to deal with pressure. If you are a young player, especially facing those things then that can always provide you with a strong base if you were to ever move on to another club. If you can do it at Celtic, you can do it anywhere. Matt is in his third year here and each year he has looked better. This year he has been fantastic for us. I think most players and guys that come here understand that. It is not until you are here do you get to feel the pressure of that.

Have you spoken to him about what may come in the summer given the interest in the last window? Has there been any discussion about where things may head for him? Is it something you are comfortable with and to let it pan out the way it does?

Yes. Listen, I speak with the players and I don't need to address anything that is not there. We are not even at the end of the season yet. Our focus is on the final part of the race. That is our only focus.

With Liam out now has that been a source of frustration whenever one defender comes back in another seems to drop out and you are being forced to chop and change at the back a lot?

Yes. It has been throughout the team this season but mainly in that defensive sector. That's where your stability comes from. It is such a shame as he has a great run and that's been the biggest frustration over the course of the season not being able to put out our strongest eleven but the players have given me everything up until this point. They've worked ever so hard. We can still finish off the season in a really high moment.

Is that the hope that after the international break, you could have your full selection of defenders or close to it? How important could that consistency of selection be in the final few weeks of the season?

It is more the options than anything else. We haven't had the options for lots of the season. I commend the players because the ones who have been available have given me absolutely everything. If we can get those players back that gives us great options and these are top players who can make a real difference for us.

On St Johnstone, what are you expecting from them and Craig Levein?

They are a very competitive team. We will have to work really hard to break them down. The game earlier in the season at home we could have scored a hatful of goals but we didn't. That was partly our finish but partly down to their courage, their organisation and their will to keep the ball out of the net. In the second game, we were nowhere near the speed and tempo that I would expect from us in the first half. In the second half, we brought the game to the level that I would expect. We came off with a really good second-half performance. We will need to do the same again. This is the time of the season when you cannot waste 45 minutes or 60 minutes in the game. You have to be ready from the start and really look to take the game to a high level.

Is there any truth in the reports that Luis Palma has sustained an injury?

We mentioned that before. He hasn't been involved in the last few squads as he picked up a calf problem. I don't think he will be available until after the international break.

There are also reports suggesting that Daniel Kelly may be signing a new contract. Is there any truth in that? How impressed have you been with Daniel making the first team breakthrough?

I have been very impressed. It is one of my key tasks here to try and provide a pathway for young talent and young players to come through into the first team. Daniel's attitude, commitment and the qualities that he has make me think he has a very bright future ahead of him. Both Daniel and Rocco Vata have been in training around the first team for a while now and they have both shown up very well. Daniel has had more opportunities than Rocco but both players have shown quality and more importantly for me as young players they have shown a willingness to learn, develop and improve. I think both players have been in talks with the club but I don't have any update on that.

Celtic are known for having great Scottish midfielders - Scott Brown and Callum McGregor - is that the hope for Kelly moving forward?

I think anywhere on the pitch, my focus is always first and foremost on the young players. I think it was one of the first things I said when I came into the club in terms of the overall vision, is to win titles, to play attacking football, and that's the demand for Celtic. But to do it with as many of the young players from our academy as we possibly can. That is very difficult to get nine and ten players but certainly, this club has consistently had lots of really young players. Then you are trying to balance that between this mentality that the team win every single game. I read somewhere the other week, that we were actually being criticised for bringing a young player into the team which I find incredible. We bring Daniel Kelly on against Hearts; it was supposedly not what should've been done. Thankfully I look after the short and the longer term of the club, and that's bringing young players in to develop, to improve, give them that experience and then hopefully they become better players because they need to get that experience. So, hopefully, we can do that in the coming years, get those players in to help support the team and eventually become first-team players. That's something that I will always focus on.

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How tough is it to manage the expectation of trying to win every game and every trophy as well as blood youngsters into the team at the right time?

If you believe in it, you do that. I think it's something I've always done all my career. I've always put in young players and developed young players if they have the characteristics and the profiles that you want. And that is what excites me. Again, part of the reason for coming back was to help bring through the talented local players because I know from my first spell here that those guys were absolutely amazing for me, and since they left Celtic some of them have gone on to have fantastic careers at the highest level down in England. So, they haven't disappeared, it's just opportunity. We want to be able to give them that opportunity here amidst all the pressures that come with winning.

How big an opportunity is it at the weekend to back to the summit of  the table before Rangers play on Sunday

The focus is really only on the game itself, to perform and to perform well. Then whatever the result that is we will finish up where we are for the international break from Sunday. But there's no other focus other than that.

How do you deal with the loss of key players?

Well, it's just supporting the players that we do have. We've got very good players. But how football works and how the game works is there are players who are more influential in teams. That's why you have different levels of teams and competitions because of what certain players can do, and what others can't do. What we have here are players who have given their all and given everything, and what they need is that support. So, that's what we do. We know the difference that Cameron Carter-Vickers makes to the team, but when he's not available we need to maximise what we can get from the other players and likewise with the likes of Callum (McGregor). Callum is a top European midfield player and when you miss that quality and that football idea, and brain and the speed, his technique and how he gets you about the pitch - clearly you are going to miss that.  Tomo (Iwata) has come in and done a very, very good job in that position so we try and maximise the players that we have to perform the very best that we can.

Do you see other players raising their standards and hear their voices grow when Callum and Cameron are not there?

Not really, no. I think the players go about the job and go about their work the same way. Of course, when you are missing that catalyst in your team in the likes of Callum, who's a brilliant leader for this group. I think naturally there's a feeling for others who will want to step up but it's only natural. We've got some really good leaders like Joe Hart, Greg Taylor, and Ali Johnston; these guys are very, very good players and have those leadership qualities. These guys have stepped up when Callum's not fit.

Is Mike Nawrocki fit?

No, still unavailable. Hopefully again after the international break and won't be too far away."