RENNES are set to prioritise their Ligue 1 fixture with Saint-Etienne on Sunday over their Europa League match against Celtic on Thursday night – boosting the Parkhead club’s chances of winning their penultimate Group E game and securing top spot.

Julien Stephan’s side have only picked up a point in their section – they drew 1-1 with Neil Lennon’s team in their opening match at Roazhon Park back in September – and can no longer qualify for the knockout rounds of the competition.

Their hosts, in stark contrast, clinched their place in the last 32 with two games still to play with their thrilling 2-1 win over Lazio in Italy earlier this month. However, Lennon and his players are still determined to finish top in order to get a more favourable draw.

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The 12 group winners will be seeded along with four of the third-placed teams from the Champions League in the draw for the first Europa League knockout round next month and will face one of the 12 group runners-up or the other four third-placed Champions League teams. 

Stephan has injury concerns over his gifted France Under-21 internationalist Edouard Camavinga and Brazilian winger Raphina and may be unwilling to risk the duo in what is effectively a meaningless match for the Breton outfit.

Johan Rigaud covers Rennes for daily French sports newspaper L’Equipe and he feels, while the visitors to Glasgow will be keen to salvage some pride with a triumph, they will be more concerned with prevailing in their league match Saint-Etienne at the weekend.

The Red and Blacks, who came from behind against Paris Saint-Germain to win on penalties and lift only the third Coupe de France in their history back in April, have triumphed in just five of their 13 Ligue 1 games in the 2019/20 campaign and are languishing in 11th place in the table.  

Celtic will guarantee they finish first in Group E if they win against Rennes and Cluj, who are a point behind them in second place, lose to Lazio in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

“Rennes have some players out injured, like Jakob Johansson,” said Rigaud. “I don’t think Edouard Camavinga, their talented 17-year-old midfielder, will be involved because he got an injury playing with the French Under-21 team. Raphina, the Brazilian, scored in the defeat to Dijon at the weekend and then came off with a problem so I don’t know if he will be in Glasgow either.

“Rennes will try to win the game against Celtic of course, but they can’t qualify now and the most important match of the week for them now will be on Sunday against Saint-Etienne in the league.”

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Rennes defeated Jablonec, Astana and Real Betis en route to reaching the last 16 of the Europa League for the first time last season and were only knocked out by Arsenal after losing 4-3 on aggregate. Rigaud admitted they had expected to do far better in the competition than they have this term. 

“The Europa League has been a big disappointment,” he said. “The two games against Cluj have been unbelievable, amazing. In the first game in France last month they had their goalkeeper Edouard Mendy sent off after eight minutes and then they got Edouard Camavinga sent off later in the first-half and went down to nine men.

“Then in Romania earlier this month Rennes had 12 opportunities to score and Cluj only had two. But they still got beaten 1-0. Losing that game was a very big disappointment for Rennes. I didn’t think Cluj were a very good team. I don’t know how they are second in the group.”

Rigaud believes that Rennes have struggled at home and abroad this season because they lost many of the players who were responsible for their European run and cup victory during the summer. He expects Stephan to try and strengthen in the next transfer window.

“The supporters are still behind the coach because he was the man who led them to the French Cup,” he said. “Last season was the best season in their entire history. Results in France and in Europe have not been very good, but he remains very popular with the fans.

“The supporters understand there has been a lot of change and appreciate that it takes time to rebuild the team. Six or seven key players left at the end of last season. It has been difficult to replace them. Perhaps there will be more players coming in January for the second half of the season. That will make a difference. The fans are patient.”