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Brendan Rodgers gets massive defensive boost

Maik Nawrocki is set to make his Celtic debut in James Forrest’s Testimonial against Athletic Club Bilbao on Tuesday night.

The defender was signed from Legia Warsaw last week in a £4.2m deal but was missing from the squad that travelled to Dublin for Saturday’s friendly against Wolves.

One by one Brendan Rodgers has watched his central defenders fall by the wayside during the pre-season with Stephen Welsh and Liam Scales paired together at the Aviva Stadium. Welsh’s last competitive appearance was last October while Scales was on loan at Aberdeen with Barry Robson in talks about a return to Pittodrie.

The loss of Cameron Carter-Vickers through injury made a serious impact on the Celtic defence at the end of last season with neither Yuki Kobayashi or Tomoki Iwata looking comfortable in central defence alongside Carl Starfelt.

The Swede had been the constant in central defence through the pre-season build up but missed the Wolves match due to a minor ankle injury.

Regardless of those injuries another option was needed in central defence with Nawrocki ready to stake his claim for a place in Rodgers’ plans.

I’m ready to play tomorrow. It was better to stay one more day off, than coming back too early. It will not be easy [to get in to the team] but we will see what with the game tomorrow and then what will be on Saturday.

It will take a few weeks but I hope it will be as fast as possible but when I play I have no excuses, no injuries – tomorrow will be my first game.

The next few weeks cover trips to Pittodrie and Ruby Park before a home match with St Johnstone then it is over to Ibrox for the first Derby match of the season.

Fortunately there are no midweek matches till the Champions League kicks off in mid-September which gives Nawrocki space to put in some serious fitness work and get used to his new team-mates on the training ground.

The run of injuries in central defence mirrors the start of last season with Moritz Jenz the only central defender to play in all six Champions League matches, partnering Carter-Vickers, Welsh and Starfelt as Celtic returned to the top competition.

Ironically the arrival of Kobayashi in January relegated Jenz down to fourth choice with his loan deal terminated with the Berliner moving first to Schalke then getting a permanent deal with Wolfsburg in the summer.

During Ange Postecoglou’s first season in charge Starfelt and Carter-Vickers played every minute of the final 18 SPFL matches of the campaign while every other outfield position had a degree of rotation.

That sort of run looks unlikely to be repeated with three expensive signings competing for two places in the side with those trips to Pittodrie and Ibrox providing severe tests in the first month of domestic action.

Developing some flexibility and increased options will be welcomed by Rodgers but keeping three big money signings content when one is likely to be starting on the bench will test the man management skills of the Irishman but that is a better proposition that the ‘options’ he had in Dublin.

Autumn brings the greater challenges of the Champions League with a strong defence essential if Celtic are to make any progress, last season while earning praise for their attacking intentions the hoops lost 15 goals over the six matches.

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