Neil Lennon refused to get into making a Celtic prediction on whether they were favourites for the group or not.
The Hoops boss takes his troops into battle for the first time in this tough-looking Europa League group tonight. All four teams look capable of getting something off each other, with Celtic joined by Rennes, Lazio, and Cluj respectively.
Every game in the group will present its own challenges. Cluj knocked Celtic out of the Champions League, whilst Celtic have had tough battles with Rennes in the past. Lazio’s pedigree in Europe, meanwhile, speaks for itself.
But when asked about who he thought were the favourites for qualification, Lennon wasn’t up for making himself sound silly. Speaking at his pre-match press conference via Celtic TV, this is what Lenny had to say:
“I don’t have an opinion on who the favourites in the group are. I think you’ve got four very good teams. Cluj managed to knock us out of the Champions League qualifiers, so they can’t be discounted from the group.
“Rennes of course have made a fantastic start (to the season). They’re cup winners here. Lazio are a team of European pedigree and one of the best teams in Serie A.
“Ourselves, we’ve had great domestic success in the last three or four years in Scotland. For me the group is open, I think all teams will be looking to have a say in the group and hope they qualify. I’m not convinced who the favourites really are.”
Lennon playing it cool – and he’s spot on to do so
The question from the presser had been about Rennes manager Julien Stephan stating Celtic and Lazio were favourites in the group. This isn’t an unusual tactic from managers in European football – managers who are keen to dismiss their own side.
You only need to look back to the Cluj defeat when Dan Petrescu was telling anyone who would listen that his side had no chance (Daily Record). Before knocking us out of course.
It can work of course. Petrescu proved that. But it’s not a classy move. Everyone can generally see right through it. We all know managers don’t go into their dressing room and tell their players they aren’t likely to beat the opposition.
But Lennon is also right not to go the other way too. He can’t come out and agree that Celtic are one of the big-hitters and that we’re favourites to go through. That can backfire on so many levels.
The Celtic boss is right to stay out of all of this nonsense. Just take each game as it comes, and don’t get too caught up on who is likely to come out of the group. We’ll find that out over the course of our six games after all.
Lennon put in a fine performance in his media conference yesterday. Now, here’s hoping the players can deliver something similar tonight.