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RODGERS’ CUP PUZZLER

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BRENDAN RODGERS may be forced into an untried central defensive double-act against Hearts in the Betfred League Cup semi-final at Murrayfield on Sunday.

The Celtic manager’s injury problems received another setback when Jozo Simunovic was stretchered off in the 74th minute of the 2-0 Europa League loss to RB Leipzig in Germany last night.

The Croatian star is now a massive doubt for the last-four tie against the Edinburgh outfit while Dedryck Boyata will also miss the game through suspension after his ordering off against St Johnstone in the previous round.

Norwegian centre-half Kristoffer Ajer is another who is on the champions’ crocked list.

JACK HENDRY…could face Hearts in Betfred League Cup semi-final.

That could mean Jack Hendry, who replaced Simunovic in the RB Arena, and on-loan Filip Benkovic, who remained on the bench in Germany, teaming up against Craig Levein’s side.

Hoops boss Rodgers admitted: “Jozo looks like he’ll be struggling. He took an awkward landing when he jumped for the ball. He will be a question mark for the weekend.

“Unfortunately Dedryck Boyata, who I thought was outstanding for us tonight, won’t be available.”

Skipper Scott Brown, whose influence was sorely missed against the Bundesliga big-spenders, will also miss out.

Despite a positive start against Leipzig, Celtic went behind to two first-half goals from Mathaeus Cunha and Bruma.

Now the visit of Leipzig to Parkhead is crucial with Rodgers admitting victory is a must if his team are to have any chance of making progress in the group.

He said: “I’ve seen enough to know we can win the game at home. We’ll have players who will come back and it’s something well within our capabilities.

“Having 60,000 at home will certainly give us a great opportunity.

“I felt there was a lot of positives from the game. I thought we started very well. After 25 minutes, their manager changed Leipzig’s system to match our diamond.

FILIP BENKOVIC…on stand-by to play at Murrayfield on Sunday. Pics: Geo.

“I felt we were finding the spaces well and were getting into good positions moving forward.

“We had a big chance through Odsonne Edouard after seven minutes and then had a period of 15 minutes where we did well.

“Their goal knocked us a little bit and then they got the second, but we regrouped again and changed our shape. We found a better comfort in defending the spaces.

“The key moments you have to defend better and, unfortunately, we didn’t.

“We’ve obviously lost two matches now against two very good sides away from home. We’ve got three points on the board, but we always knew our home games would be vital for us and try to pick something up away.

“We have to look to the next game at home and look to win that – if we don’t it becomes really difficult. It gives us a great chance, but we know we have some work to do.”

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Editor

Acclaimed author Alex Gordon wrote the biography of Scotland international legend Denis Law, entitled 'King and Country'. He is a former columnist with World Soccer magazine and Scottish correspondent of respected European journal L'Equipe.

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