Celtic’s best centre-back partnership of Kristoffer Ajer and Christopher Jullien will face their stiffest test of the season on Thursday.
When the Hoops travel to Rennes, they can expect a fast start from the hosts. Far too often in Europe have Celtic been hit with a blow by losing an early goal away from home. But even when we do get past the first 15-20 minutes with no damage, it’s often inevitable that we concede.
It’s backed up by the stats too. Of their last 28 away matches in European football proper, we’ve conceded in 25 of them. It’s a seriously poor stat that needs to be improved upon.
And it will also be another feather in the cap of the Jullien/Ajer partnership if they can achieve a solid display. Granted, Rennes scoring on Thursday doesn’t mean we’ve defended poorly on the night. However, a clean sheet would tell us a lot about the back-line we currently have.
Ajer and Jullien are widely seen amongst the support to be highly exciting together as a partnership. Not many would argue it’s not our best partnership either.
A good performance in France is just what Ajer/Jullien need
But any form of sloppiness in Rennes, or any sort of collapse would be a shot in the foot for the defence’s confidence. However, it would also be a blow for fans who are expecting plenty from this duo.
They can’t do it on their own of course. The likes of Boli, Hatem Abd Elhamed, and Scott Brown will be influential in protecting the centre-backs. But they will have to be efficient and concentrated on the night.
If Celtic aren’t up against Mbaye Niang on Thursday, it would be an instant boost for the defence. However, even then Rennes have Raphinha and Theoson Siebatcheu available to them.
Ajer and Jullien have hardly had the chance to play together due to injuries and fitness issues. The contest in Brittany this week, should they start, will mark their first European outing together at the heart of the defence.
So far, Ajer and Jullien have partnered each other in the centre of defence just three times. It’s still an extremely fresh duo and that could have its teething problems. But so far there’s been no sign of any.
And if they can keep out this impressive young Rennes side, it will be a huge shot in the arm for them.