Celtic must seize Europa League chance and prove it on the big stage – Chris Sutton – Chris Sutton

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Brendan Rodgers has a chance to seize a big moment.

So can Jack Hendry. And Dorus de Vries. Chuck Charly Musonda and Moussa Dembele into that mix as well as a few others.

Thursday’s Europa League crunch against Zenit St Petersburg is not just a glamour tie.

It’s a glorious opportunity for Celtic, the manager and some of the players to prove a few points on a huge stage.

Brendan Rodgers with Scott Brown

Of course today’s Scottish Cup clash against Partick Thistle takes precedence for the right now and no slips can be afforded in the chase for a back-to-back domestic treble.

But the venture back on to the continent is a huge for the club and this is a big week.

Rodgers has ticked the boxes perfectly so far as Celtic manager in Europe. Qualification for the group stage of the Champions League in the first season.

Repeating the dose but adding progression beyond Christmas into the knockout phase of the Europa this time around was a case of target hit. But there is no question the group stage of the premier tournament didn’t finish in a satisfactory manner.

Losing twice to PSG and Bayern Munich was hardly a whipping offence but a couple of savage defeats raised some question marks and the closing game against Anderlecht in Glasgow was a real letdown having won in Brussels.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers with Jack Hendry

In terms of progression that was a shuddering stopper. Celtic were nowhere near it that night and the Belgians were miles too good.

It brought some people down to earth. Rodgers even queried after the game whether some of his players were ready for that level and he was questioned over team selection.

Yet what an opportunity for the manager and the players to blow away any negativity and prove they are making strides on the Euro front.

Rodgers took stick for the drubbings in the group stage.

Some of the criticism was unjustified but I’m quite sure there were also aspects he’ll feel he could have improved upon.

He now has the opportunity to get it bang on for the visit of the Russians. Not just Rodgers but some of his signings have a brilliant chance to really cement their
positions among the supporters and prove themselves in a key arena.

Brendan Rodgers was delighted with his young stars

Looking at the defensive options and the injury list, Hendry seems set to be plunged into the starting line-up a fortnight
after being a Dundee player.

This is a massive chance for him. Celtic’s defending wasn’t exactly wonderful in the group stage, apart from the clean sheet in Brussels where Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic shone.

The Bosnian will likely start, barring any setbacks against Partick today, and Hendry will partner him. If he wants to prove to the Parkhead fans he’s the real deal and the potential future mainstay of the backline – as his manager believes – this is a great chance to prove it.

De Vries right behind him can also grasp the nettle in his gloves.

The Dutchman has played once for Celtic in Europe and was used for target practice as Barcelona skelped seven past him in the
Nou Camp last season.

Celtic goalkeeper Dorus de Vries with Celtic’s Callum McGregor at full time

Craig Gordon has split opinion with his Euro performances this term but de Vries can show himself worthy of stepping up to the plate.

Musonda must surely have a part to play. Rodgers has talked him up as one of the most exciting talents in Europe and there is no way Chelsea would be handing him a five-year contract if he wasn’t genuine.

I didn’t think he was too bad in the Killie defeat but he was signed for the big Euro nights and what an instant opportunity to weave some magic against classy opponents.

Listening to him talk when signing, Musonda doesn’t lack confidence or belief. But Parkhead in front of a 60,000 crowd is where you can speak the loudest.

Rodgers has others who will want to show up. Olivier Ntcham was used sparingly in the Champions League and had one or two dodgy moments, specifically in Munich.

Olivier Ntcham

But he did well when he came on against Anderlecht in the final group game and can carry forward his improved efforts since the winter break.

Scott Sinclair also has to prove
a few points in Europe. While
his numbers and statistics are impressive on the domestic front he didn’t look comfortable at any stage of the group campaign after good qualifiers.

Then of course you come to Dembele. This stage is absolutely made for him.

The French striker leapt to
everyone’s attention with excellent shows last term in Europe. But it didn’t go to plan this year with injury robbing him of peak form.

Celtic’s Moussa Dembele in action with Kilmarnock’s Youssouf Mulumbu

The whole January circus surrounding him didn’t help his season – but it’s all gone now.

Dembele will be right in the
firing line and if he can put Zenit
to the sword it will re-establish
his credentials as a young striker
of outstanding potential and
hefty value.

In the technical area and on the pitch Rodgers and his players have a brilliant opportunity to slam down a marker again that says they are going in the right direction on the continent.

It’s a case of seizing the 
moment. Let’s hope for the sake 
of them and Scottish football 
they grab it with both hands.

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