Kolo Toure could team up with young Irish defender Eoghan O’Connell to make his Celtic debut against FC Astana in the Champions League tonight, with manager Brendan Rodgers insisting a start for the 35-year-old would not be a gamble.
The former Arsenal and Manchester City defender teamed up with his former Liverpool boss last week but sat out the first leg of the third qualifying round in Kazakhstan, which ended 1-1, and Saturday’s 3-1 International Champions Cup defeat to Barcelona in Dublin as he worked on his fitness.
Rodgers is short on defenders, with Erik Sviatchenko still out with a groin strain and Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic both working their way back following respective hamstring and knee injuries.
That leaves Rodgers, who gave a European debut to 20-year-old Corkman O’Connell alongside the much-criticised Efe Ambrose in the Astana Arena, still limited in central defensive options for the crunch game at Parkhead.
“Kolo will be in the squad,” said the Hoops boss, who revealed Nir Bitton has had a scan on the ankle injury he picked up at the Aviva Stadium which will almost certainly rule him out while fellow midfielder Stefan Johansen is back in the squad after missing the last two matches after his wife had a baby.
“He has trained well since he has come in.
“We left him behind at the weekend to continue with that and I am very confident he can play a part in the game tomorrow.”
Kolo has had a great impact already in the short period of time he has had here but you also have to try to apply a little bit of common sense to it.
“He has only been in the building a short period of time (and) it is a huge game for us. But I have no doubt that his experience somewhere in the game can be required, if I felt that he wasn’t ready to start.”
On Bitton’s injury, Rodgers said: “He will struggle to make the game. He had quite a bad knock on his medial ligament so I think he will struggle for fitness for tomorrow.”
Celtic have failed to qualify for the Champions League for the last two seasons and rectifying that situation was Rodgers’ main remit on taking over from Ronny Deila in May.
The Irishman insists keeping a clear head amid the “hysteria” which can surround Champions League qualifiers is key to achieving that goal.
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