Christopher Jullien gives Celtic team-mates the lowdown on Rennes
When Christopher Jullien returns to his homeland this week, he does so in pursuit of a change in fortunes.
The venue for Jullien’s first match in France as a Celtic player is not one he can describe as a happy hunting ground.
The big defender was unable to taste victory on any of his three outings at Roazhon Park in Ligue 1 with Toulouse, experiencing the added blow in one of them of a red card which still rankles with him now.
Jullien is bullish about his prospects of finally taking maximum points at the home of Rennes, the matchday one opponents for Celtic as they kick off their Europa League Group E campaign on Thursday night.
“I was sent off in one of those defeats and it was a really bad refereeing decision. I had switched off, it was the 94th minute and we were losing 1-0. One of their players hit me when I was trying to clear the ball and I fell to the ground.
“I was on my side and I just pushed him away with my leg – I certainly didn’t expect a straight red card.”
Jullien is respectful of Rennes’ quality. The club from Brittany defeated Paris Saint-Germain in the French Cup final last season to qualify for the Europa League and have recorded another victory over the big-spending French champions during a solid start to their current domestic campaign.
They are backed by a passionate home support whom Jullien expects to provide Celtic with a hostile reception at their 30,000-capacity venue.
“It’s not going to be as intense as it was for us at Ibrox a couple of weeks ago but it will be a good atmosphere,” he added.
“Rennes had gone without European football for seven years until last season when they also won the French Cup. They got to the round of 16 in the Europa League last season and had a really good crowd when they played Arsenal at home in that tie. They beat Arsenal 3-1 that night but lost 4-3 on aggregate.
“They have made a really good start to this season, beating PSG again which surprised a lot of people. They have a lot of very good young players in their team which is one of the things they are famous for.”
Senegalese international striker M’Baye Niang, singled out as one of Rennes’ biggest threats by Jullien, missed their goalless draw in the Breton derby match at Brest on Saturday and faces a fitness battle to line up against Celtic.
Jullien also highlights the significant influence of Clement Grenier, the former Lyon and French international midfielder, although he is convinced Celtic captain Scott Brown will emerge as the dominant force in that department on Thursday.
“Niang is an excellent striker and they also have some good midfield players,” said Jullien. “They are a good team – it would be a mistake for us to go there thinking otherwise. They aren’t a team you can take lightly and just think ‘everything will be okay’.
“I’m sure everyone here will be focused on giving their best against them – if not, I will have a word with them because Rennes can be really dangerous. I know some of their players and I’ve played against them often.
“The most important individual for them is Clement Grenier. He is the midfielder who controls everything for them. He switches the play and has a great delivery from free-kicks. The talented young players around him listen to everything he says. Grenier is a big part of their success.
“Is he their version of Scott Brown? Not so much – they are totally different and that’s why I’m happy going into this tie as a Celtic player. I know Grenier and if he has someone like Broony breathing down his neck, he won’t be the same.
“If you press him in an aggressive way he’s not happy. If he doesn’t have the time and space to dictate the tempo and he has someone on him, then he’s not so effective. He’s still good but he’s not the same and I’m sure our management will have noticed that.”
Jullien is quickly forging a strong relationship with Brown. The duo enjoyed seeing the funny side when Jullien nicked the ball off Brown’s toes to score his first Celtic goal in the Europa League play-off round victory over AIK.
“Yes, Scott has forgiven me for that,” smiled Jullien. “I told him that he could at least claim an assist for it. He’s okay with that – we were laughing about it and it was good for me to score.”