Football/Soccer

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers blames lack of improvements for Champions League exit

Celtic coach Brendan Rodgers' team failed to reach the group stages of the Champions League
By Padraig Kelly

CELTIC manager Brendan Rodgers has said that a lack of incoming players during the summer transfer window played a part as their ambitions of reaching the Champions League group stages came to an end against AEK Athens last night.

Having drawn 1-1 at Celtic Park last week, the Scottish champions found themselves 2-0 down after 50 minutes at the Athens Olympic Stadium with Rodrigo Galo and Marko Livaja on target for the Greek side in this third qualifying round clash.

Scott Sinclair did give Celtic hope when he headed home with 12 minutes remaining, but they couldn’t find the equalising goal that would have taken them through to the play-off round.

In the lead up to the game, Rodgers had spoken at the frustration of missing out on a number of targets, most notably Hibernian’s John McGinn who instead moved to Aston Villa, and he once again reiterated his stance after the full-time whistle.

“I don’t want to make any excuses really,” he told BT Sport. “I’ve said what I’ve wanted to say in terms of us needing improvement.

“You have to (improve). You only have to look at Liverpool who got to the Champions League final and went out and got great signings in and strengthened the squad.

“I’ve always said that we needed to strengthen no matter how good we have been over the last couple of years.

“That’s something that hopefully we can do (but) it’s no good for us now.”

The result capped a difficult week for Rodgers with conflicting reports over the future of defender Dedryck Boyata ahead of the second leg.

The Belgian, who had been a target for Fulham recently, did not travel with the squad although he posted an Instagram video claiming that fitness reasons were the reason behind it.

“I just feel for the players that are here,” Rodgers said last night.

“These are the guys that wanted to be here, they’ve earned the right to do that.

“This is a level where we need all the help that we can get.”

On the game itself, Rodgers said that he felt that his players had showed some good attacking intentions but were ultimately let down by poor defending at the other end of the pitch.

“We gave ourselves a chance with the goal at the end, we were throwing everything at them, and I thought in general a lot of our build up play into that final third was worthy of something from the game.

“But you can’t defend that softly and unfortunately we were punished for it.”

Celtic’s European commitments now turn to the Europa League with Rodgers’s side now set to face Lithuanian outfit Suduva or Latvia’s Spartaks Jurmala in the play-off round with the first leg set to take place next Thursday.

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