Rodgers created a Celtic juggernaut first time round, and there’s no reason he won’t again

A lot has been made of Celtic’s start to the 2023/24 season, with many fans feeling underwhelmed by not just the transfer activity off-the-field but the displays on it.

Celtic losing the Viaplay Cup second round match-up with Kilmarnock at Rugby Park only added to that discontent and it got this writer thinking about how different the beginning of this season has been compared to Rodgers’ initial stages as Celtic manager back in the 2016/17 season.

In Rodgers’ first spell as manager there were games that felt like a drag and weren’t the most exciting to watch, much like how the wins this season have felt, but just how different are things with Rodgers second time around?

Christ! You know it ain’t easy

As good as Rodgers’ first trophy-laden tenure at the club was, people often forget that the beginning of the invincible season wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.

The first competitive fixture played under Rodgers may actually be one of the most humiliating defeats in the club’s illustrious history.

At that point in time, Celtic were still playing Champions League qualifiers, regardless of whether they won the league or not. During Rodgers’ first campaign in charge, we started at the second qualifying stage where we lost 1-0 to Gibraltan side Lincoln Red Imps.

Celtic were stunned and it would have been easy to declare a crisis based solely on that unthinkable defeat.

Scraping into the Champions League groups

Celtic eventually overcame the Gibraltan champions and faced Kazakh side Astana in the following round which again wasn’t smooth sailing despite the supposed gulf in quality. The first leg was a 1-1 draw with a late Leigh Griffiths goal bringing a level tie back to Parkhead where it took a 92nd minute Moussa Dembele penalty to ensure Celtic’s passage to the play-off round to face Israeli outfit Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

The first leg was a firework show at Parkhead as Celtic ran out comfortable 5-2 winners, a tremendous Leigh Griffiths free-kick ranking as the most memorable moment. However, the second leg was all but comfortable as Celtic clung on for dear life in the final 40 minutes in Israel as the hosts went within one goal of winning the tie and banishing Celtic to another season of Europa League football.

Domestic dominance with hiccups along the way

At this point in the season, as far as domestic competitions went, Celtic had tallied up two wins from two in the league but again, it wasn’t smooth sailing. A late goal from Scott Sinclair ensured a win at Tynecastle on the opening day and Celtic almost dropped points at McDiarmid Park as a late Ryan Christie goal made things safe at 4-2 after a late barrage from the Saints.

With Rodgers coming under intense scrutiny since he returned to the Celtic Park hot-seat, it is worth noting that Celtic’s greatest season in modern history wasn’t all plain sailing to begin with either. Rodgers’ sides can take some time to get going, and once his team hits full throttle following the return of several injured players, as well as the settling-in of new arrivals, we will see the juggernaut of a side the Irishman can create.


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