RENNES may or may not opt to field some youth players at Celtic Park on Thursday night, their manager’s comments after their 2-1 defeat to Dijon at the weekend. Yesterday we reported on Julien Stephan’s post match comments which seem to indicate that he’s changed his mind on playing youth players in the Europa League tie at Celtic Park and instead will force his flopping stars to go out and try to redeem themselves.
The Europa League Group looks decent enough from the point of view of Mussolini but no-one else, with one point Rennes are rock bottom and already eliminated and face two tough final games at Celtic and at home to Lazio that could severely add to their miserable campaign.
Whether Rennes give youth a chance on Thursday is immaterial to Neil Lennon’s plans and that is certainly not something that he’d consider doing given that qualification has already been achieved. For the Celtic manager the group has still to be won.
“I can’t do that,” Lenny said to the Media, as reported by Evening Times. “It’s a European night at home and there’s still work to do in the group.
“I want to get it done. And then we can take another look at it. But if we take our eye off the ball we could get done. And psychologically we don’t want that either.
“I think it’s important we don’t take our foot off the gas. We want to finish top because in theory that might help you get a more favourable draw. Hopefully Lazio take points off Cluj meaning a win on Thursday guarantees us top spot with a game to spare. That would then give me the luxury of maybe using the squad in Romania.
“But we can’t look too far ahead. We want to win on Thursday so we’re going to go strong.”
This Celtic side has the opportunity to become the first to win a Europa League group and that is also something that Neil Lennon is keen to achieve.
“Well, if there’s an extra incentive then you would look for that as motivation. I would like to see us take maximum points from the home games. That would be a good marker for going into the new year.”
Lazio of course are desperate for Celtic to beat Cluj in the final game. If they can beat the Romanian Champions in Rome on Thursday by two clear goals then win in Rennes on 12 December, a Celtic victory over Cluj on General Election Day would see the Italians sneak through.
An Italian journalist questioned the Celtic manager about ‘sporting integrity’ after his side’s historic win in Rome, regarding Celtic’s option of fielding a weakened team in Cluj in December. Lenny thought that was perhaps a bit rich given top seed Lazio’s squad rotation in the earlier rounds.
“That was a bit rich coming from them! I tried to be as diplomatic as I could about that one. But we will do what’s best for Celtic.”
Rennes only point in the group came against Celtic on Matchday 1 and the Celtic manager reckons his side should have won that match too.
“We should have won over there,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised by how well we did over there, but I was pleased with how comfortable we looked. And then really disappointed that we were a goal down at half-time.
“At half-time I said to them, ‘are you going to play well and lose? Or are you going to force the issue?’ And they did that very well in the second half.
“We were at least good value for the draw as at that time they were bang in form. Ten days earlier they had beaten PSG. But we looked comfortable in that environment and it’s really given us a springboard for the group.
“They started the season well, but they seem to be a bit inconsistent with their league performances. And in the Europa League they’ve been surprisingly a bit flat. So, I don’t know what their coach will be thinking.
“We’ve heard some whispers that he might look to bring over a younger team, but we can’t look too much into that. We want to finish our home games with maximum points.”
Here are the highlights from that 1-1 draw in Brittany.