ON the corresponding weekend of last season, Moussa Dembele confirmed his hero status amongst Celtic fans by back-heeling the only goal in an Old Firm BetFred Cup semi-final. It was his 13th start of the season and his 14th goal of the campaign. With suitors supposedly weighing up transfer bids in excess of £35m, it was hardly a surprise if certain Celtic fans wondered how they would cope without the in-demand young Frenchman.

Yet that, effectively, is what the Parkhead side have done this season – even though the player is still contracted to the club. A combination of two separate hamstring injuries, and the form of Leigh Griffiths, has limited the 21-year-old to three club starts, one goal and less than 300 minutes of total playing time.

Where last season it was Griffiths who was banging on the manager’s door, now it is Dembele who has required reassurances. But as much as he has had to manage those injury issues to safeguard both the player’s body and his market value, Rodgers told the Frenchman this week that he senses he is moving freely again and forecasts that he is ready to get a fresh chance to stake his claim imminently. It would seem a pretty fair bet that an opening might come as soon as Hibs at Hampden Park this lunchtime.

“I have had to ease him back in after the injuries,” said Rodgers. “So it’s part that and it’s part how well the team and Leigh have been doing. He has played very well and you must respect that," he added. "My job is to try and manage that situation. If Leigh needs a rest or a breather, or if Moussa plays, then it’s my job to decide that.

"But I do see signs that he [Dembele] is getting back to where he was last season and I’ve told him that over the last week. With Moussa, you notice it in his running. When he came on against Dundee, his mobility and running ability was there. It was the same in his half hour against Bayern Munich. He is going to be really prominent for us in the next number of weeks."

Rodgers experimented with playing both Dembele and Griffiths at the apex of a 3-1-4-2 formation earlier in the season against Ross County, a shape which bore fruit with a comprehensive 4-0 victory. There may be cause to go with that shape again in future. But for Celtic's bigger matches, including the Champions League, two into one won't go. While Rodgers has proved adept at ensuring a path back to the first team is never closed - take, for instance, the example of Stuart Armstrong - that means dogged competition between these two single-minded strikers for one starring role.

“It’s very much role reversal from this time last season,” he added. “Do they [Moussa and Leigh] like that competition? I’m not sure! But they are both good lads and Leigh has been great since he came back from his calf injury. All strikers just want to play and score goals.”

When figures in excess of £35m are being spoken about, it would be easy for a player like Dembele to rock the boat. Rodgers has been heartened all along by the view the player's management takes with his progress. Let's face it, he wouldn't be at Celtic in the first place if he wasn't prepared to take a long-term view of his development.

“With Moussa, it’s about recognising where he is at," said Rodgers. "He is a top talent, a fantastic player, and it’s about communication with him.

"But Moussa gets it. That has been my feeling all along with him. He knows how good a player he is but he’s also been humble with it. He respects where the team is at and he knows he has to fight and work to get in there.

“It’s not always an upward curve. He has been unfortunate with injuries but his understanding of why he’s not in the team is important. He needs to know why. Silence is a death sentence for a player. If you live your life as a player and there is no communication, then you get in your car after training and your agent calls. It will be ‘Are you playing? Why not?’ Then you go home and your family is asking. It becomes a circus. Communication stabilises emotion and you are always trying to do that with a squad. But he [Dembele] will get opportunities as the season pans out.”

The crux of the matter is the strain that playing week in week out - sometimes three times a week - places on a young body. Dembele, who also got back-to-back run-outs recently with the France Under-21 side, scored 32 goals in 49 appearances last season - the most he has crammed into any season of his career. “At 19 or 20, you can't play every club game and international game - and expect to not get injured," he said. "The body just isn't used to it. It's different for senior players who have a lot more games in their legs." If he gets the nod today, expect Dembele to inflict some pain upon Hibs.