All’s fair in Europa League group de­spite en­ergy Bren doesn’t buy talk of the Red Bull con­spir­acy...

CELTIC Rodgers reck­ons

Evening Times - - SPORT - BY MATTHEW LIND­SAY

BREN­DAN Rodgers, the Celtic man­ager, last night dis­missed con­cerns that Leipzig and Salzburg, who are both backed by en­ergy drinks man­u­fac­turer Red Bull, will col­lude to en­sure they each qual­ify for the Europa League knock­out rounds.

The Scot­tish cham­pi­ons de­feated Ger­man ri­vals Leipzig 2-1 at Park­head on Thurs­day evening to draw level with their op­po­nents on points in the Group B ta­ble with two games re­main­ing.

The Bun­desliga club will play Salzburg, who are six points clear at the top of the sec­tion fol­low­ing a 5-2 tri­umph over Rosen­borg in Nor­way, away in Aus­tria in their next fix­ture on No­vem­ber 29.

UEFA cleared both clubs to play in the Cham­pi­ons League last sea­son de­spite their rules stat­ing that no “in­di­vid­ual or en­tity” can have a “de­ci­sive in­flu­ence” over the ac­tiv­i­ties of more than one club in its tour­na­ments.

Red Bull con­vinced Eu­ro­pean foot­ball’s gov­ern­ing body that both clubs sat­is­fied the el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria af­ter mak­ing “sig­nif­i­cant and sub­stan­tial” changes to the cor­po­rate struc­ture at Salzburg.

The com­pany re­duced their back­ing of the Aus­trian cham­pi­ons and re­moved a num­ber of their se­nior ex­ec­u­tives and suc­cess­fully ar­gued their in­flu­ence over the club had di­min­ished. They are now of­fi­cially only the main spon­sor.

The clubs, who both dis­play Red Bull’s logo on the crests and jer­seys and both play in Red Bull-spon­sored sta­di­ums, were drawn to play each other for the first time in the Europa League in the 2018/19 cam­paign.

Rodgers, though, stressed he is re­laxed about the sit­u­a­tion de­spite the fact that if Leipzig and Salzburg draw, the lat­ter will progress and the for­mer will only need to beat Rosen­borg, who have lost all four of their games, at home to qual­ify for the last 32 of the com­pe­ti­tion.

“I would never ques­tion the in­tegrity of it,” he said. “Both teams have pride. You saw it in the first game. Both teams want to win. Salzburg are a very good side. They have shown that against Leipzig and in their game on Thurs­day night. So, no, I’m sure that will be a very good game. Both teams will want to win that.

“The group is a very tough group. You see the level of the two teams that are there plus Rosen­borg. So it will be a fight hope­fully right to the end for us.”

Rodgers was de­lighted at how Celtic per­formed in their win over Leipzig on Thurs­day evening and is hope­ful they can reach the Europa League knock­out rounds for the sec­ond sea­son run­ning if they at­tain that high stan­dard in their re­main­ing games against Rosen­borg away and Salzburg at home.

He said: “What we said to the play­ers be­fore this game was ‘let’s show our iden­tity and if it doesn’t work out and we lose the game it’s okay be­cause we’ve at least tried to do it the best way that we can which is our way’. I was re­ally proud of the play­ers for tak­ing that on board.

“At this level you can­not be timid and there was cer­tainly no sign of that in terms of their per­for­mance. But that is how we have been play­ing. It was great to take that from do­mes­tic level into a game against a top class team.”

Rodgers con­tin­ued: “It wasn’t a hard luck story at the end. It wasn’t 1-1. We de­served to win. That was the pleas­ing as­pect. We ac­tu­ally earned the vic­tory. We had to show a re­silience.

“My ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing with the very best play­ers in the world, and this was the mes­sage I gave to the

Celtic man­ager Bren­dan Rodgers is all smiles talk­ing

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