Glasgow (AFP) – Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers praised the quality of striker Moussa Dembele after the French forward fired the Glasgow giants to their 21st league victory in a row on Saturday.
The French under-21 international grabbed both goals in the 2-0 win over bottom club Hamilton Academical at Celtic Park to take his tally to 29 goals in 42 games since joining the Hoops from Fulham in the summer.
Dembele, who started his career as a youth player with Paris Saint-Germain, has been linked with a move to the English Premier League in the summer and is tipped to earn a call-up to the France senior squad for their games against Luxembourg and Spain next month.
And Rodgers was delighted with his contribution after he helped Celtic maintain their 24-point lead over Aberdeen at the top of the Scottish Premiership with a first-half strike and a second-half penalty for his ninth goal in four games.
“The boy absolutely oozes quality. For a 20-year-old, to see the improvements he is making is absolutely fantastic,” the Celtic manager said.
“He was outstanding today. He could have had another hat-trick but that doesn’t matter — he got two.
“The first goal was great and the second goal was great composure again to finish.”
Rodgers replaced Dembele with fellow striker Leigh Griffiths in the 72nd minute with the French forward chasing a hat-trick, and the 20-year-old appeared unhappy with the decision as he trudged off the pitch.
However, his manager said it was important to give Griffiths some game time as he fights back to fitness following an injury lay-off.
“I think he looked alright. He was lapping up the applause and he was enjoying it, but all players, whether it is a striker or not, want a hat-trick,” Rodgers said of Dembele, who had already scored two trebles against St Johnstone and Inverness Caledonian Thistle in February.
“But like I have said before, there is no individual bigger than the team and I always look to make sure that I think about the team.
“Leigh has been working very hard and we cannot go on with just one striker. We need to have two firing and as fit as they can possibly be.”
– ‘Hunger’ –
The win over Hamilton extends Celtic’s unbeaten domestic run to 32 matches since the start of the season as they remain on course for a first treble since 2001.
Celtic were far from their best against the bottom side who aimed to frustrate the runaway league leaders.
But former Swansea City and Liverpool manager Rodgers, who is celebrating two decades as a coach, was happy with the desire and work his players put into the game.
“It’s nearly 20 years to the day I got my first qualification as a young coach. And in those 20-odd years I’ve watched videos, I’ve read, I’ve analysed, I’ve studied and I’ve been involved in hundreds of games coaching,” the Celtic boss said.
“What I’ve learnt in that period is that the greatest principle you can have in football is denying your opponent space.
“How the players counter-pressed the game today, how they didn’t allow any moment for Hamilton to make any real sequence of passes — and they’ve got some really good technical players — really deserves a huge amount of credit to them in terms of how hard they are actually working.
“They are so many points ahead and they are still showing that desire and hunger to close that space because as a coach that’s how it starts — how you defend.”
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