Nir Bitton will have the spotlight on him for Celtic tonight.
Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers has told The Scotsman that playing Nir Bitton in tonight’s Champions League clash with Astana is not a gamble.
The Hoops host Astana in the first leg of their Champions League playoff as Rodgers’s side bid to put one foot in the group stage of the competition.
The Israel international, normally a midfielder, looks set to start alongside Jozo Simunovic in the middle of Celtic’s defence due to injuries to Dedryck Boyata and Erik Sviatchenko.
Bitton impressed in his first two games at centre-back, including a 1-0 win at Rosenborg which secured their place in the playoffs, but the 25-year-old looked slightly suspect in the Bhoys’ 1-0 win at Partick on Friday, raising concerns among the fans.
But the Northern Irish boss is adamant that he does not represent a risk.
“If it was a big gamble, I wouldn’t do it,” said Rodgers. “I have taken risks all my life and eight or nine times out of ten, they pay off. For me, this is not a risk, “he told The Scotsman.
“Ok, it might not be perfect playing Nir there but he has got a good idea of what he is doing, he has got the right profile.
“He will go and attack it, he will head it and he can play football. I don’t see it as a risk.”
Rodgers’s admission that it “might not be perfect” to be playing Bitton is an interesting one, given how the former Liverpool boss told The Daily Mail earlier this month that he was indeed “perfect” for the role.
He said: “I know his first position is a centre midfield player but I always like a midfielder who can play in that central defensive role and he is perfect for it.”
You could argue that Rodgers has backtracked slightly, perhaps after seeing him against Partick, but Bitton was superb in the victory at Rosenborg so Celtic fans shouldn’t be hugely concerned about his performance tonight – even if it is a huge match.