Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers believes his team have earned respect in the Champions League – now they want something more tangible to show for their efforts ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Atletico Madrid.
The Hoops have collected one point from their opening three Group E games and face away matches in the Spanish and Italian capitals before closing their campaign at home to Feyenoord.
Celtic had two men sent off in their opening game in the Netherlands before losing leads against both Lazio and Atletico, but the quality of their three goals and the first-half performance in particular against Diego Simeone’s team showed they can cause major problems to their rivals.
Simeone has been effusive in his praise of the Scottish champions and the Argentinian also feels they deserve more points.
Rodgers reckons their confidence levels are growing in line with their standards of performance and can lead to a big result in Madrid.
“The cynics will probably tell us we only have one point but for a club and a team like ourselves it’s all about improving that level of confidence, and that will come through performance,” said Rodgers, who reported his squad was in “good health” other than long-term absentees Reo Hatate and Liel Abada.
“We maybe haven’t had quite the level of results and points on the board, especially in the last two games, that we deserve, but we are very happy with the performance levels.
“I think we played well in the three games. As each game has gone on, the level of performance has been better.
“We haven’t had the breaks we have probably wanted from the games but in terms of performance level, in particular the last game, we were very, very good.
“Hopefully in the next three games in the group we can get what we deserve from the games.
“Our level has increasingly got better, our confidence has got better, and hopefully we can turn that into points.
“But we are under no illusions, we understand we are coming to a fantastic stadium against a very good team but we are really excited by that challenge.”
With a three-point deficit on third-placed Lazio, Rodgers knows the need for points is great.
“There is no doubt, we are not daft, we know this is a game where we want to get a positive result to take into the final two games,” he said.
Rodgers feels the team’s ability to switch from their usual 4-3-3 system to a back three in the second half against Atletico in Glasgow showed impressive flexibility that they might need in Spain.
But he added: “It doesn’t take away from our style, we always want to be a team that is aggressive and looks to play the way we want to play no matter the system.
“That adaptability is important so I was really pleased with that in the first game, but also our style in terms of looking to impose ourselves on the game. We want to do similar (on Tuesday).
“Listen, we know we are playing away from home against a very good side with top-quality players but it’s important for us to not wait in the game.
“We want to go and impose our style on the game but we also know we are going to have to defend and defend well at times against a very good side.
“For us the notion is to look to play our game, to make a fast start in the game, and when the challenges come, which they will do, then we look to defend really strongly as a team to combat that.”