Celtic would have been excused for jetting out of Glasgow yesterday morning in a sombre mood. The green half of the Old Firm have been forced to contend with leaving several of their first team players at home due to injury. The absence of Gary Hooper, Georgios Samaras, Kris Commons and captain Scott Brown has left Neil Lennon’s options seriously hindered in terms of both midfield and attack. Long term absentees Emilio Izaguirre, Kelvin Wilson and cup tied Badr El Kaddouri add to the woes at Parkhead, supplying Lennon with further cause for concern over his defence, as they prepare for Thursday’s Europa League showdown with Ligue 1 side Rennes.
A sloppy start to the domestic league campaign has left the green half of the Old Firm ten points adrift of rivals Rangers. A combination of poor defending and an inability to perform after losing the first goal has resulted in a remarkable three defeats in Celtic’s first ten SPL matches. In addition, their form in Europe over recent years, particularly away from Parkhead, provides grim reading for hoops fans. However Lennon remains bullish about his team’s chances, suggesting that European competition can provide his beleaguered squad with a well-needed distraction from the SPL,
“We have exciting players ourselves and we feel we can cause them plenty of problems. The best thing to do about a poor record is break it and we are looking for a good performance from the players. This group was always going to be difficult, especially in the away games, but that doesn’t perturb us and we will give it everything to break that hoodoo.”
The up beat and refreshing attitude that the Celtic manager adopted in the pre match press conference is sure to be reflected in Lennon’s team talk and game plan. Despite a poor run of form, the hoops boss is determined to persevere with the fluid, passing football that seen his side take the SPL title race to the wire last season. Rennes boss Frédéric Antonetti recognises and appreciates his counterpart’s attempts to play attractive football in an environment and financial arena that would be easy to do otherwise.
“They play football, and not just the kick and rush football you expect from British sides. We have watched them on numerous occasions, as we would with any opponent, regardless of whether it is in the league, the League Cup, or in Europe. I personally have only seen them on videos and there is a great deal of physical effort but no lack of finesse, particularly in middle of the park.”
Neil Lennon has admitted to thinking vigorously about his central defence and the possibility of dropping the fragile and inconsistent veteran Daniel Majstorovic in order to “tighten up.” Celtic have a reprieve from domestic duty but are sure to be in for a tough game, particularly without several first team regulars whose influence will be sorely missed. Recently too many of Lennon’s big players have went missing, and failed to live up to their reputations. The Northern Irishman will be hoping that the likes of Beram Kayal can improve their attitude, and in turn supply the Celtic faithful with performance that their backing deserves.
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