THE pre-match nerves may well have been growing a little ahead of the first meeting of the season with Rangers as Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers spoke to the media after training at Lennoxtown yesterday afternoon. 

Yet, the difference in the demeanour of the Northern Irishman from the weekend was, thanks to the business the Parkhead club have conducted in the final days of the summer transfer window, noticeable.

Rodgers will still be without Cameron Carter-Vickers, Reo Hatate, Maik Nawrocki and Stephen Welsh for the cinch Premiership game at Ibrox tomorrow afternoon and will not be able to field anywhere near his strongest starting line-up.

Still, the capture of Luis Palma from Aris and Nat Phillips from Liverpool on loan as well as the imminent arrival of Paulo Bernardo from Benfica, had clearly buoyed the Celtic manager considerably.

READ MORERodgers provides Celtic injury update ahead of Rangers clash

“The red alert for us was the centre-half position,” he said. “That was a challenge for us. Being able to bring in a player with big game experience and big club experience (Phillips) gives me a greater reassurance in that area especially with the likes of Cam being out.

“We’ve got young players, but you always need to have that experience there to help those players through. You need to have those players who are established to take them through so I’m very conscious of that.

“Luis Palma is a talented player who was identified. We recognise he’s someone who can grow and develop here. Then whatever else we can do will be great.”

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It was speculated that Rodgers would lavish eight figure sums on established players after he returned to Celtic back in June. He has spent nearly £18m on no fewer than eight new recruits since then. But the marquee signings which were forecast have not materialised.

The 50-year-old, though, appreciates the challenges the Scottish champions face in the transfer market in the modern era and stressed he is content with both the age and experience of those he has strengthened his squad with for the 2023/24 campaign.

“It’s the model of the club,” he said. “It was suggested when I first arrived that there was going to be £10m and £15m players. But the club has a model that is sustainable for the club and they’ll work to that model. That’s where it’s at and it’s proven to be successful.

“I think every manager will tell you by the end of the window that they always wish they could have done more in certain aspects. But I think it’s an ongoing situation here.

“Whatever we can’t get because of either availability or affordability, then we move to the next window. In between times, I’ll work with the players who are here and look to develop them.”

READ MORECeltic complete Paulo Bernardo transfer from Benfica

Rodgers continued: “There’s no doubt (the transfer market is tougher). So many things have changed and evolved in football in the four and a half years I’ve been away.

“If you look at the different markets that can attract players now, the finances involved and the wages there are in the Premier League for players who you won’t even have heard of, it’s a huge challenge for clubs up here to compete with that.”

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Rodgers will determine if Phillips, who played five times for Liverpool last season and has previously had loan spells at Bournemouth and Eintracht Frankfurt, is fit enough to start against Rangers at Ibrox tomorrow after a final training session today. Liam Scales, who will now not be going out on loan, will get the nod if he is unable to feature. 

However, the Celtic manager is, despite the Viaplay Cup loss to Kilmarnock at Rugby Park and Premiership draw with struggling St Johnstone at Parkhead last week, relaxed about the difficulties which the treble winners are currently experiencing and confident their form will improve.

Asked about the fallout to the last two results, he said: “I will be totally honest, I haven’t seen a thing. But I can imagine. It’s part of the landscape here. I am experienced enough now to know that you have to keep your poise and rely on your knowledge and expertise to get through. 

“I said after the game last weekend, that we didn’t do well enough in the game. We didn’t show enough quality and that’s the reality of it. And when you don’t win a game like that in front of your own supporters then of course you will feel that. 

“But I know that, I don’t need to read about it or hear about it or listen to it. My sole focus is to make sure the efficiency of the teams improves with each game.

“The Rangers game is a brilliant game to be involved in and, of course, you always want to be able to come out the right side of that. That’s our only focus really for this weekend. There are big clubs with big expectations and it’s so important in the pressurised moments, when you are under pressure, to keep that control. It’s so important.”

READ MORELiel Abada pens new Celtic deal as winger shares 'love' for the club

The prospect of facing Feyenoord of the Netherlands, Atletico Madrid of Spain and Lazio of Italy in Group E of the Champions League in the coming weeks and months is also an enticing one for Rodgers.

“I don’t think about ‘weaker’ teams or what would give us a better chance to go through,” he said. “For me, it is always about giving the supporters and the club the chance to compete against the best.

“If we had got PSG, Borussia Dortmund and Newcastle United or whatever then it would be equally brilliant for me. You want top teams and players to come to your club.

“The view might be, ‘Feyenoord are maybe not as strong as another team’. But they are the Dutch champions. Atletico Madrid have got to the final, are a strong team and are a rich club with a fantastic manager. These are going to be tough games, but exciting games. The whole aim is to get through to Europe after Christmas. That is the starting point.”

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