Celtic need rare away win in Rennes

By Liam McLeodBBC Scotland
Celtic players in the Europa League defeat by Atletico Madrid
Celtic have endured a miserable spell on their European travels

Matchday three in the Europa League is looming for Celtic, yet the spectre of FC Sion is still casting a shadow over Group I.

The Swiss side appear to be doing the impossible: softening up Uefa.

The fact they are still the centre of discussion as we approach mid-autumn, suggests European football's governing body has made a mess of the situation.

Either that or we are on the brink of a seminal court ruling to match that of Jean-Marc Bosman's famous success in 1995.

Regardless of what contingency plan Uefa comes up with, Celtic's place in the competition is apparently safe.

That being the case, a rare away win in Europe looks to be a must for Neil Lennon's side here in Rennes.

However, that hasn't been helped by the fact that injured striker Gary Hooper is back in Glasgow, something that will surely grant Anthony Stokes - who sparked a second half revival against Kilmarnock last weekend - a big-game start.

Three points turned into one late on against Udinese three weeks ago, that after the defeat at Atletico Madrid.

Celtic's 2-0 away victory at Dinamo Moscow in 2009 is looking very lonely in the record books right now.

That being the only one in 31 matches away from Glasgow.

Neil Lennon
Lennon's side arrive in France with just one win in six matches

Indeed, domestically, Lennon's men are spluttering. One win in six with this clash in France coming hot on the heels of Saturday's emotionally-draining trip to Kilmarnock.

And the SPL side can forget about Rennes being any less of a challenge than Atletico or Udinese.

Despite also being stuck on one Europa League point so far, courtesy of a draw at home to the Spaniards last time out, Stade Rennais - to give then their Sunday name - have begun this season in good form.

They cantered to a qualifying win over Serbia's Red Star Belgrade, 6-1 on aggregate having come through two qualifying rounds.

They are also unbeaten at home in all competitions sitting fifth in Ligue 1, just five points behind the cash-rich Paris St Germain.

For years, Rennes have lived in the shadow of their Brittany neighbours Nantes.

They are nowhere near as successful, with two French Cup wins in their history all they have had to show for their top-level efforts.

But they remain a club with a tradition of promoting youth.

French World Cup winner Silvain Wiltord is arguably their most famous son, but it is Yann M'Vila a product of the club's youth system who is grabbing the headlines in L'Equipe. The good news for Celtic is that manager Frederick Antonneti has decided to rest him.

The midfielder, now regarded as one of France's brightest prospects, arrived at the club in 2004 at the age of 14. In the last year or so, the 21-year-old has amassed 15 caps in Laurent Blanc's new-look national side. M'Vila is already approaching the century appearance mark for his club and is certain to leave for bigger things, probably in January, so Thursday's line-up could be a vision of how Rennes will look next year.

Attacking midfielder Jonathan Pitroipa was at Hamburg until the summer but was involved in a high-profile clear-out that also involved Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy and Brazil international Ze Roberto.

Colombia attacker Victor Montano is normally up front with Congolese-born Jires Kembo-Ekoko, with only Montpellier scoring more in the French top-flight so far this season.

Indeed, Rennes have found the net 35 times in just 16 games including Europe.

The Celtic supporters will hope that Lennon has somehow managed to plug their leaky defence before they take to the pitch at the 30,000 capacity Stade de la Route de Lorient, you get the feeling they'll need it to keep their hopes alive.

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