Celtic begin their UEFA Europa League campaign on Thursday with a trip to France to play Ligue 1 side Rennes, in what will be a difficult opener for the Scottish champions.
Defeat to CFR Cluj over two legs at the beginning of August meant Celtic crashed out of the Champions League at the third qualifying stage.
However, entry into the Europa League playoff round handed the Hoops a European lifeline, which they took, beating Swedish side AIK to book themselves a place in Group E alongside their Champions League slayers Cluj, Italian side Lazio and Rennes.
Even though Celtic have started the Scottish Premiership season superbly, recording five wins out of five, manager Neil Lennon knows he will also be judged on how his side perform in Europe, making Thursday’s encounter crucial.
It will be a challenge though, with Rennes currently flying high themselves in their own domestic league, sitting second behind Paris Saint-Germain after five games. Rennes also reached the last 16 of the Europa League last season before they lost to Arsenal, so Celtic are in for a test on Thursday.
Where to Watch
|When Is Kick Off?||Thursday 19 September|
|What Time Is Kick Off?||17:55 (BST)|
|Where Is it Played?||Roazhon Park|
|TV Channel/Live Stream?||BT Sport 3|
|Referee?||Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez|
Where to Buy Tickets
Tickets for the game are, as ever, available on both teams' official club websites, though membership is required in order to purchase. In terms of resale, both teams provide the option to make season tickets available for others to use, if a supporter is unable to attend the game themselves.
Rennes will be without defender Gerzino Nyamsi, who has an injury to his right hand, and striker Metehan Guclu, who's out until November with a hamstring problem he picked up against Nice at the start of September.
Whilst missing both Nyamsi and Guclu will be frustrating for manager Julien Stephan, he will be most concerned about star striker M’Baye Niang, as the former Milan man picked up a knee injury in training last week and is now a major doubt to face the Hoops.
Brazilian striker Raphael Dias Belloli, who recently signed from Sporting CP, is set to start in his place.
Celtic have injury worries of their own though with Nir Bitton, who has a thigh strain, and winger Mikey Johnston, who has a groin injury, both expected to be out until the start of October. Commanding centre back Jozo Simunovic also faces a number of months on the sidelines as he struggles with ongoing knee problems.
Marian Shved and Luca Connell are both close to returning to the squad, but Thursday’s game will come too quickly for both of them.
|Rennes||Mendy; Traore, Da Silva, Gelin, Morel, Maouassa; Bourigeaud, Camavinga, Grenier; Siebatcheu, Belloli.|
|Celtic||Forster; Elhamed, Jullien, Bauer, Mbombo; Brown, McGregor; Forrest, Christie, Elyounoussi; Edouard.|
Head to Head Record
Rennes and Celtic have met four times in the last decade, with Celtic undefeated in all four contests, winning twice and drawing twice against their French opponents.
The last game between the two at Roazhon Park was back in October 2011, in a Europa League group game which ended in a 1-1 draw thanks to a late Joe Ledley equaliser for Celtic.
The most recent encounter between the sides was only back in July in a pre-season friendly at Celtic Park. However, it was a drab contest which ended goalless. This Thursday the game will be played at a greater intensity though, with far more at stake for both teams.
As alluded to earlier, domestically both sides have been in fine early season form, meaning the two sets of players should be full of confidence ahead of this opening Group E game.
Rennes stunned Ligue 1 Champions PSG in August, coming from behind to record a 2-1 home victory which sent shockwaves around France. This impressive result was sandwiched in between two crucial away wins at Montpellier and Strasbourg.
Whilst defeat at home to Nice brought the Brittany outfit back down to earth, they still sit second in the league above the likes of Olympique Lyonnais. Impressive.
As for Celtic, they are going as expected in the league, winning all five of their opening games, which included a 2-0 win against bitter rivals Rangers, leaving them perched at the top of the table, three points clear of their closest challenges which is Steven Gerrard’s Rangers side.
Defeat to CFR Cluj in August in the Champions League was a major disappointment, but with that now behind them, Lennon will be hoping his side can make a mark on Thursday as they target qualification from a difficult group.
Here’s how both sides have performed in their last five games.
|Brest 0-0 Rennes (14/9)||Hamilton 0-1 Celtic (14/9)|
|Rennes 1-2 Nice (1/9)||Rangers 0-2 Celtic (1/9)|
|Strasbourg 0-2 Rennes (25/8)||AIK 1-4 Celtic (29/8)|
|Rennes 2-1 PSG (18/8)||Celtic 3-1 Hearts (25/8)|
|Montpellier 0-1 Rennes (10/8)||Celtic 2-0 AIK (22/8)|
A trip to Rennes makes for a tricky start for Celtic, who have a fairly dismal away record in Europe in recent years.
Yes, Celtic did comfortably beat AIK to reach the Europa League group stage, but Rennes are a different beast altogether, possessing quality and European experience all over the park.
Even though Celtic have a decent record against French opponents, Rennes were strong at home in Europe last season, winning three of their five home games which included thumping Arsenal 3-1.
Therefore, whilst Celtic will be hoping for a draw, Rennes look in good shape to start their campaign with a win.