Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers defended his decision to rest key players against St Johnstone on Sunday ahead of their crucial Europa League second leg at Zenit St Petersburg.

The runaway Scottish league leaders made seven changes against their Perth counterparts but put in a lacklustre display as they laboured to a goalless draw which increased their lead at the top of the table to nine points.

Celtic take a 1-0 lead to Russia on Thursday knowing that victory will take them through to the last 16 of the competition for the first time in 14 seasons.

There has been some criticism levelled at Rodgers for making the changes but he was unrepentant when questioned about the side he fielded against the Saints.

”No – you have to be careful with so many big games and a big game on Thursday,” he said in The Herald.

”Kieran Tierney has played nearly two seasons in one and I have to take the opportunities to give him a breather. After Thursday he has Aberdeen on Sunday and games to follow from there.

”Scott Brown is suspended, Mikael Lustig has a niggle on his Achilles and we couldn’t risk that and Oliver Ntcham was ill and couldn’t play. Scott Sinclair came in and was top class so it was still a strong team. It was young, but strong and we just couldn’t get the win.”

”Olivier should be fine for Thursday. Browny is available and Mika was precautionary but should be fine. There was no need to risk it when I have other players I can give a chance to.”

It was the second time St Johnstone had gained a point at Celtic Park this season and Rodgers wondered how the team had struggled so much this term and yet managed to get results against his side and a victory over Rangers.

”How can you win a game at Ibrox 3-1 on December 16 and then not win right through apart from the Albion Rovers Cup game?” he said.

”The next big result is away at Celtic. So, the question is with the St Johnstone players.

”They were committed, fighting, running. If they do that in every single match then they would win a lot more games.

Celtic face Zenit knowing the Russians tonight have only failed to score once in the last 23 home Europa League ties, going back well over a decade – so a huge task awaits.


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