HOW Brendan Rodgers must wish that he could have called upon the central defensive partnership of Dedryck Boyata and Filip Benkovic when his side travelled to Athens in August to have their Champions League hopes dashed at the final hurdle.

If he had, then Rodgers and Celtic may not have been arriving in Trondheim last night for the third time in just 16 months, this time to take on Rosenborg in their penultimate Europa League group match. But that they are, and all Rodgers can do is be thankful that both Boyata and Benkovic are here now too.

In the nine matches that they have played as a central two in the Celtic defence, they have kept clean sheets in seven of them. And what is perhaps more relevant, is that they have been the rock upon which their last two victories in this competition have been built too.

The Celtic manager may be right to savour the fact that he has the pair for the moment, because he is sure that their destiny lies at the very top of the game.

“The two of them are top class,” Rodgers said.

“I was talking to someone the other day and I said that if I was managing in the English Premier League you’d be happy with those two as centre halves.

“Both have different attributes. But they’re really stable and secure. They work very well off each other.

“They love playing with us and it’s great for us as a team to have that stability. Sometimes we haven’t had that.

“So, to have those two and their qualities gives us a really strong base.”

“Any team, if you’ve got that stability in your centre-halfs, then that’s important.

“But I think it’s a collective thing. The team feed off that confidence. Defensively, though, it’s about the team and pressing from the front.”

One man who may be missing for Celtic is Scott Brown. The captain has for so long been that reliable bedrock upon which Celtic’s fortunes have flourished or floundered, but having missed the last five weeks with a knee injury, Rodgers was playing down his skipper’s chances of making the line-up in the Lerkendal Stadium.

What has been surprising though is how well Celtic have adapted to the absence of Brown, which has given Rodgers the leeway not to rush the midfielder back before he is 100% fit. Anything less than that, he says, would simply not be good enough for him.

“I’ll have a think on it, we’ll see where he’s at,” said Rodgers. “He’s trained well.

“You’re always having to be careful. Just being fairly fit isn’t enough for me. You have to be fit enough for the game, no matter how good the player is.

“So that’s something we just consider overnight and see where we’re at tomorrow.

“Broony’s a brilliant player. It’s just a question of considering if this game comes a bit too quick for him. Does the weekend come a fraction too quick for him?

“I spoke to Scott. He recognises where he’s at in terms of his fitness level.

“He’s very much a team player, he’s the leader of the group and he respects also how well the team’s done over the last eight weeks.

“He knows whatever decision I make is for the benefit of the team. Scott is obviously, as the leader of the players, comfortable with that.

“He is also one who wouldn’t knock my door, but it’s one where I’ll also take him aside. That’s the respect I have for him. If I have to speak to a player or talk to them about certain things, that’s something you have to do.

“The most important thing is that he is now back available, back training and working well.

“The likes of him and Olivier [Ntcham] now give that added strength to the squad, which is very important.

“It’s the ideal scenario for a manager to have options and you need it.

“We go deep into competitions, we are playing a lot of games and for that you need freshness and competition.

“It’s great to have these guys coming back.”

Celtic have to win against Rosenborg this evening to give themselves a realistic chance of progression from their group, but Rodgers has no fears over their ability to handle that pressure having come through such a stern test against RB Leipzig at home in their last Europa League match.

He isn’t being lulled into a false sense of security by the noises being made by Rosenborg manager Rini Coolen either, who has intimated he may field a weakened side for the game against the Scottish champions with a cup final against Stromsgodset to prepare for on Sunday.

According to Rodgers, the only thing that counts is how Celtic play, and if they reach the heights they did against the Germans last time out, the result will take care of itself.

“Leipzig at home was a great step for us in relation to beating a top-class team and in the way we want to play,” he said.

‘We work like a top team. Big pressure on the ball, real aggression in our defending, everything compact and tight and not giving the other team a chance to breathe.

“Also seeing the other team and their qualities. The speed, their combinations, it a;; makes a great game and then for us to show that resilience and mentality to come through when it did go against us a wee bit towards the end. We still found that mentality to kick on and that’s what the good teams can do.

“It was a fantastic result and one which everyone would have looked at and felt it was a really good performance.”