The above are the first words of La Marseillaise, the French National Anthem which, thanks to some hard work by my dedicated Francophile of a teacher, Miss Bird, in the late 1950s at St Gerard’s in Govan, I can still sing word for word, if not always in tune!
This is a big week for the French. Some of their top sides are involved in both the Champions League and the Europa League, while on Sunday the national rugby team meetsNew Zealandin the final of the World Cup.
The whole country will be caught up in the fervour of reaching that final and it will be into that atmosphere that Celtic will fly to faceRennesin the third match of their Europa League campaign. So far, our record is nothing to boast about; played 2, drawn 1, lost 1, goals for 1, goals against 3. With four points-apiece, Udinese and AtleticoMadridare already looking the dominant pair in the group, Celtic andRennesthe also-rans at the moment.
This makes this Franco/Scottish match a pretty crucial one. Celtic could do with a victory – or even a fine performance – on foreign soil, although I doubt whether Rennesshould be under-estimated. They had a fine win over close rivals Lorientat the week-end, the points gained putting them into fifth place in Ligue 1 after ten matches, five points behind leaders PSG. And it does appear to be a fairly competitive league. There is an 8-point gap between the leaders and Caenin 8th Place; in the SPL, the 8th placed team –Kilmarnock – lie 18 points behind leaders Rangers.
Neil Lennon does not have his problems to seek. He knows better than anyone that the most important competition this season for Celtic is the Scottish Premier League. To allow Rangers a 4th consecutive title would put a noose not only round the club’s neck but probably his own as well. Yet, while he might like to, he cannot treat the club’s involvement in the Europa League lightly. The fans do not like to see their team treated cavalierly by continental opposition; they tend to remember the good days inEurope, although, to be honest, most of them were a long time ago.
The manager must be tempted to re-jig some names within the team, try a new combination at centre-back, for instance, or vary the positions held by some within the midfield. If he does that, though, and it does not work, then it is back to the drawing board for further analysis before the team to play Aberdeen is chosen at the weekend. Sometimes, in such cases, it can be difficult to put one’s finger on the problem. This time round, though, the stats are quite clear. In 10 league matches, Celtic have scored 21 goals while losing 11; Rangers have scored 23 while losing 4.
As they say inRennes, voila la difference!