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Thursday 17 October 2019

Lennon backs French flair of Bhoys against Rennes

A Celtic scarf and tribute to former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen
A Celtic scarf and tribute to former Rangers player Fernando Ricksen

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has backed his French trio to bring an edge to their Europa League group opener in Rennes.

Lennon feels Christopher Jullien, Olivier Ntcham and Odsonne Edouard could be inspired by the return to their homeland.

Scottish Premiership player of the month Edouard is certain to start up front, especially with Leigh Griffiths missing with a thigh knock, and returns to France weeks after netting four goals in two games for his country's Under-21 side.

Centre-back Jullien has been passed fit after a weekend head knock and is also sure to play amid injuries for Jozo Simunovic and Nir Bitton. The £7million summer signing from Toulouse has shown real signs of settling into the heart of the defence in recent games.

And Ntcham could feature in midfield as Lennon bids to devise a formula to cope with a side who won their opening three Ligue 1 games.

The midfielder shone off the bench against Rangers before the international break but was left out of Saturday's win at Hamilton.

Lennon said: "Yes, I am tempted to bring him in, because he's a good player.

"And I think the guys coming back to France... Jullien knows the environment very well, Odsonne has been away with the Under-21s and done fantastically well.

"I always think going back to your home country is a great incentive to show the people back home, your family, your friends, how much you have come on and how much you have developed.

"So I think there is an little bit of extra incentive and motivation for these players, there is no question of that."

Celtic have scored in all 14 games they have played this season and had much of the play in their away qualifiers.

But Lennon realises that tonight's contest against the French Cup holders, who reached the final 16 of this tournament last season, is a different proposition.

"You do have to assess those scenarios in terms of changing formation," he said.

"We are not expecting to have the bulk of possession, which we normally have.

"Rennes are excellent on the ball and use the 3-5-2 system very, very well. They have had some stellar results already this season, including beating PSG, and they are sitting second in Ligue 1.

"We have given this game quite a bit of thought over the last few days and we have worked on a few things, and the players are ready."

Lennon was devastated to hear of the death of his former midfield rival Fernando Ricksen yesterday. The ex-Holland international, who made more than 250 appearances for Rangers between 2000 and 2006, had been fighting motor neurone disease for six years.

Lennon faced up to the former Ibrox skipper in numerous Old Firm derbies over the years and paid tribute following the 43-year-old's death.

"It's tragic," said Lennon. "I played against in many battles in a time when both teams were very, very strong in Glasgow."

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