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Sep 24, 2020 at 6pm UK at Stadions Skonto
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Neil Lennon insists he will "support" Kristoffer Ajer amid AC Milan talk

Neil Lennon insists he will
© Reuters
The 22-year-old defender will be on duty for Celtic as they take on Riga in the Europa League.

Neil Lennon has vowed to put an arm around Kristoffer Ajer as Celtic look to ward of interest from AC Milan.

The Italian giants were reported to be putting together a £14million bid for the Hoops centre-back but Lennon insists Parkhead chief Peter Lawwell has received no offer.

The Northern Irishman, however, is aware the speculation could have a destabilising effect on the 22-year-old.

The pair sat down before flying out to Latvia for Thursday night's Europa League clash with Riga and Lennon was relieved to see the big Norwegian had his focus trained fully on the game.

But the Parkhead boss has also reminded Ajer of the backing he has at Celtic Park.

Lennon said: "He is very focused. He will start tomorrow and he's looking forward to the game. You can't control speculation. As always, there's been no concrete offers or concrete confirmation of anything and we don't want to sell him.

"He's in a good place mentally. I spoke to him on it yesterday and I'm there to support him.

"It can sometimes be a very distracting situation that he finds himself in but he's getting all the support he can from myself and the backroom staff and obviously his team-mates."

Lennon took aim at sections of his squad after last month's humiliating Champions League exit at the hands of Ferencvaros, claiming some players had made it clear they wanted to leave.

Fingers were pointed at the likes of Ajer, Olivier Ntcham and Odsonne Edouard and there was further cause for concern when the latter was left out of Saturday's 3-2 win over Livingston.

Lennon insisted that was purely down to tiredness on the back of the Frenchman's hectic early-season schedule and hinted he could also join Ajer in the line-up to face Riga.

"He's great," said the Celts manager. "He's trained well the last few days and he's ready to go."

The failure to reach the Champions League group stage for the third year in a row sparked a furious reaction from the Hoops faithful.

Lennon – who has left Ajer's defensive partner Christopher Jullien back in Glasgow to get treatment on a back injury – knows his side cannot afford to repeat the defensive lapses that cost them against the Hungarians as they shape up for another one-off Euro showdown.

"It's very important," he said. "We have come out of the Champions League which is a blow for us. European football is important to a club like Celtic every season, so this game is pivotal.

"Our endeavour is to make the group stage of the Europa League, and that opens up the whole season. So we're treating this game very seriously.

"We have got great respect for our opponents and we'll have a strong team available for tomorrow. Europe stimulates your season, it stimulates your players and supporters.

"Obviously it's also important for us as a club to have European football, to try to make progress and improve on last year. We had a great group campaign but we must negotiate two very difficult rounds to get back there this season.

"That's our sole focus at the minute but hopefully that experience will stand us in good stead for these games. But it's a one-off tie and we have to get everything right. The players are well prepared for it.

"They've played in a lot of one-off cup ties domestically. This is different obviously with a little change in mentality. We're away from home against relatively unknown opponents.

"We're trying to prepare them as well as we can but in terms of whether it's a one-legged game or two-legged they are well aware of what is ahead of them."

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Celtic's Greg Taylor celebrates scoring against KR Reykjavik with Scott Brown and Ryan Christie in the Champions League on August 18, 2020
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