• Reacting to Europa League fixture with Benfica
  • Coming to terms with Cantwell injury blow
  • No underdogs in battle with Celtic

Philippe Clement has spoken to the media ahead of the visit of Hearts. Here is what he had to say.

How do you feel about drawing Benfica?

It is a really exciting challenge. It is a very, very good team. I think it will be the first game when I am here that we will be underdogs in a game. That is the reality. But that doesn't mean that we cannot qualify and we believe in our qualities. With the mentality that is within this group now, we believe we can beat everybody. But we need to be at our top, top form and you need to have luck also in key moments in the game.

How much of a priority is European progression?

I am not here to have success for myself, I explained that already a lot of times. Of course European nights are important for the club and the stature of the club but you need to also be realistic. You need to look at your budget and what you spend, the value of your squad, and compare that. In that way, Benfica are quite in front of us but I think there is a really special story developing here in the building and there is a lot of motivation and hunger and desire. With that, we can do really amazing things and that is what we are going to try to do in those weeks.

What is the key to balancing European football and domestic competitions?

To do what we have been doing, and that is making a good rotation in the squad. It is not something new, we did it also in November and December and we also had really big games against Sparta Prague, who showed again yesterday how good a team they are by qualifying against Galatasaray. We did it also against Betis in Seville and in the meantime we also had the big games in the league, we had the League Cup final and semi-final. In that way, there is no difference from that period. It is really intense but we are preparing the whole team for that more and more, also the three young lads in the back. We will see who is going to be available in that moment and to make a good rotation so that every time we can be in full power with the players who start the game and the players who come in.

How much will the experience of some players in the Europa League help?

There are some. It is not with the whole squad that way that they went that far in Europe but some have the experience and that is really good. They know what it is, they also are in really good form and they showed that in the last couple of months. They take good leadership in the dressing room. Those are also the players who have been pushing the story in a good way.

What do you expect against Hearts?

We have played now for the fourth time already. I don’t know how many games I did until now, 25, 26 or something? The fourth time against Hearts so that is already special. It is a team with a lot of quality, a team who is well organised, that counts on a very important player to score goals and that has scored more than 50 per cent of their goals. It is the third best defence until now in the league which proves that they are well organised and they are not afraid to wait to pick their moments. For us it will be to break open that wall, to be dominant but not be naïve and not to get transitions, not to get set pieces because they are strong in that also. And play our normal game with our fantastic fans behind us in Ibrox. That is also a major thing that gave a lot of energy in the last couple of games. I expect a crowd also who is really supportive of the team from the warm-up until the end of the game and to push the players toward their best level.

How important is it to keep Lawrence Shankland quiet?

It is important because, like I said, he has scored more than 50 per cent of their goals. That is a lot of points if you see all season. It is not only to be focused on him and forget the rest because then there will be other guys who make the difference. We never go into games thinking about one player. I played with my team last year against Messi, Neymar and Mbappe in the same game but we were not focused on them, we were focused on our way, how we need to play and how we need to stop them but using them also to attack. That worked in a good way. It is always my philosophy to be more focused on ourselves.

How is your squad?

Todd will be out for a few weeks. Of course that is a disappointment for him, for the team, because he was in really good form. But it is part of football and we coped with those things the last couple of months also. It is about other players stepping up and showing the right things for the team. On the other side, Kemar trained a few times this week with the group and, with we don’t have so many offensive players, he will be in the selection tomorrow. He will be back in the squad but for sure not to play a half or something. It will be for not too many minutes but it could be important at the end of the game you can put him, with his goal scoring qualities and experience, into the game.

Can you be more definitive on Cantwell?

I think it will be around three, four weeks.

Do you accept it is a different sort of challenge now?

No. I started in the first team when I was 17 and I had the luck to play in a lot of teams that played for titles. Even my first team, it was in the second league but still it was playing for a title. I have been a lot, a lot, a lot of times in that situation. It is not about looking at the others, it is not about looking forward or backwards, it is about looking at yourself. We are going to continue what we have been doing and we are totally not busy with looking backwards, like we were not busy with looking forwards a few weeks ago.

You don’t think there is any added pressure now you are top?

No. I don’t feel any pressure in this group. I feel a lot of hunger, desire, will, good motivation, good quality in the training. For the moment, it is really challenging to see if we do tactical things and you have two groups of eleven players how they fight each other in a good way and show quality. Also players who don’t start the game tomorrow they really show themselves. That is the way to go and the team really understand that story. They feel also how much they have grown out of that. They don’t grow only about playing the games, they grow with the training and they challenge themselves and their team-mates. That is the way we will go until the end of the season. I am really not interested in how many points other teams have. It is only about us being ambitious to try and win every game. It is all about.

When you say this is the first time you are underdogs, do you mean in a European context?

No, in general. In all the games we have played until now I think.

Do you include Celtic in that?

I don’t think we were underdogs that day. I don’t see us as underdogs against Celtic. For me there are two teams that are at a similar level competing. That is different than with the Benfica story. I have seen Benfica last season because I like to watch also my old teams. I saw them play Club Brugge and they were very impressive to be honest. They won’t 2-0 in Brugge and 5-1 at home in the Champions League. Also the last couple of years, you see the results they have in Europe and it is a really nice challenge. That is a good thing because it is only by bigger challenges that you can grow. We had a big challenge in Seville to win that game and the players took it. Until now, almost every challenge I gave them they took it. Hopefully they can take this one also.

How important is your defensive record?

It is crucial because if you give shots away, give chances away, give goals away, you give hope and belief to opponents. It is important, one of the major things in the football that I want to see. I want to see a dominant, attacking team but always staying in our structure that we don’t give away easy things. That is a challenge to be with so many people in attack but still don’t give away chances. The players understand the story and are doing that better and better. It doesn’t mean I know we will get shots against, I don’t expect a game tomorrow when we don’t get shots against. I think that cannot be a reality against a team of the quality of Hearts but we are also really ambitious with all the team now.