RENNES head coach Julien Stephan believes Celtic are very near the standard of Europa League rivals Lazio as he warned his team that getting out of their group would be harder than last season.

Celtic kick off their group campaign in Brittany on Thursday while their Champions League conquerors, Cluj, take on the Italians.

Rennes reached the last 16 last season, finishing ahead of Jablonec and Astana and behind Dinamo Kiev, before beating Real Betis and losing to Arsenal.

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But Stephan said: "It will be completely different group from last year, we think it's a stronger team. They are used to winning national titles, every year almost, they have won eight titles in a row.

"They are a team who are usually in the Champions League and they have huge experience with many internationals. We know they can play in the air and they are very technical.

"They are a very, very good team and have technical players like [Callum] McGregor, [Ryan] Christie, [James] Forrest, just to mention a few.

"They are well balanced and we know how difficult it will be but we are lucky to play at home and the supporters are going to play a big role in a potential win for us.

"I do believe Celtic are one of the favourites. As far as experience they should be able to perform well, maybe just behind Lazio."

Stephan has lost half of the team that won the French Cup earlier this year but Rennes sit second in the table after beating leaders Paris St Germain during their opening five matches.

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"It's a new team, a new season, there is a new story to be told and we need to construct a story with a new team," he said. "We can't compare this year with last year, last year is history.

"We are in the process of rebuilding and the group is evolving. We have had a very good start in the league and we need to take it into Europe."