NEIL Lennon has been before to the French town of Rennes when first time around as manager he faced the football club.
This was in 2011. Same teams. Same competition. Two current players, Fraser Forster and a very young Callum McGregor was was on the bench, played that night eight years ago. But a lot has changed and for the better.
Celtic came away with a creditable 1-1 draw that night, Joe Ledley cancelling out a spectacular own-goal from Cha Du-Ri, at a time when points on the road in Europe did not come easily to the club.
In recent seasons, Celtic have done much better away from Glasgow. Indeed, it’s the home form which has let them down. Manchester, Moenchengladbach, Brussels, Rosenborg have all been visited in the past few seasons and the Scottish champions have emerged with a draw or better.
Lennon’s Celtic part two, this season, have yet to lose on the road and it’s why the manager will head to France for this Thursday’s first Europa League group match feeling good about what his team can achieve.
He said: “The Stockholm performance, when we beat AIK 4-1, was one of the best I’ve managed under. It was terrific. They are the Swedish champions so it wasn’t an easy thing to do and we played brilliantly.
“We’ll have to be at our best again because Rennes have good pace, technically have some very good player, and have good structure. I’m not convinced it’s the most intimidating atmosphere, but in terms of playing style it is going to be interesting. A really good test
“We’ve done some work on them already. They beat PSG, and I know they lost to Nice in their last game but technically they are a good side. Obviously we played them pre-season. It’s a tough game for us, the first one away. We’ll have to be at our best to get something out of it.
“We’ve had them watched already and Peter (Houston, scout) will go again and have a look and obviously we’ll do our prep work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. We’re looking forward to this; it’s very exciting.”
That first game in Rennes must seem like a lifetime ago to Lennon.
That season was the first in eight in a row) and counting) and it was the start of his first team beginning to look the part.
Lennon recalled: “We weren’t good away from home in Europe – at any level – so to go and get a point and then we beat them at home 3-1.
“We had Atletico Madrid in that group and Udinese, so a brilliant group, and we did okay. We drew twice with Udinese, who were flying, and we lost the two games narrowly to Atletico Madrid and it stood us in good stead for what was to come.
“At that time, we were a work in progress. This team have the makings of a very good side domestically and we can make an impact in Europe this year but this opening game is going to be tough.
“But then you want to put expectation on the players now – ‘come on, see if we can get out of the group and where it can take us’. It’s a good group but it’s not insurmountable at all. Can we get some gravitas back in Europe now? That’s the incentive. That’s what we want out of it.”
“They have a 16-year-old in their midfield, Eduardo Camavinga, who looks a super player. So some of the talent they produce. Rennes have had some really good players over the years and they seem to be having a little bit of a renaissance. They beat PSG in the French Cup final [on penalties] and then again they’ve made a really good start to the league.
“So they might be one of those teams that are on the up again. You get a cycle where you have a Nice, Montpellier or whoever, and maybe it’s Rennes’s turn. I think it will be a good footballing game but we are going to have defend well at times as well.”