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Sainté clash starts huge week for Rennes

Publish on 08/06/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS

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Stade Rennais FC host AS Saint-Etienne at Roazhon Park on Sunday looking for a lift as the Brittany side head into one of the biggest weeks in their recent history.

Stade Rennais FC  -  AS Saint-Etienne

This is the third of four consecutive home games in just under two weeks for Rennes, who are fresh from beating LOSC 2-1 on Wednesday to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Coupe de France. Before that they beat Amiens SC 1-0 to stay within touching distance of the European places in Ligue 1 Conforama, and they can pile the pressure on Saint-Etienne by beating Les Verts.

Coach Julien Stéphan nevertheless needs to make sure his players are not distracted by the approaching UEFA Europa League last 32, first leg against Real Betis next Thursday, with Rennes still in continental competition in the second half of a season for the first time in their history.

The visit of the Spanish club will be a very special occasion for supporters of Les Rouge et Noir, and there is rightly optimism among the fanbase just now - the win over Lille extended their unbeaten record at home to eight games since Stéphan's appointment, with Jordan Siebatcheu's brace deciding the tie in their favour.

"Lille had won six matches in a row since the winter break," pointed out Stéphan, whose team played most of the game with an extra man but fell behind when Nicolas Pépé put Lille ahead in the second half.

"It is not the first time that the team has shown itself to be capable of finding the resources to come back into a game. That shows the self-sacrifice and the determination of the players. They are never beaten.

"Being through to the quarter-finals means we have eight games in what was already a busy February, but that was our objective before the game so we are delighted."

Rennes will entertain second-tier US Orléans in the quarter-finals at the end of the month, after the two legs of their tie against Betis are out of the way. For now the focus is on Saint-Etienne, with Stéphan's men needing to close the gap on their visitors - the Bretons ended last weekend in 10th place in the table, just four points behind Saint-Etienne in fourth but having played a game more.

Selnaes heads to China

Saint-Etienne have won on just one of their last 12 visits to Rennes in the top flight, but they should at least be feeling rather fresher than their hosts. After all, Jean-Louis Gasset's side have not played since their 1-1 draw at FC Nantes on January 30, with last weekend's home meeting with RC Strasbourg Alsace being postponed due to the snow over the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.

Since their agonising 2-1 home defeat against Olympique Lyonnais in the derby, Sainté have fallen six points adrift of their great rivals in the fight for a podium place, so this is a crucial game for them as their 12-goal top scorer Wahbi Khazri goes back to face his former team. However, Gasset has selection problems in midfield at the moment.

Yann M'Vila misses the meeting with his old club due to suspension, while his Norwegian partner Ole Selnaes is on his way out of France to join Shenzhen in the Chinese Super League in a lucrative move for the player. The out-of-favour Cheikh M'Bengue is set to go with him.

"I don't blame him at all," said Gasset last week of Selnaes. "He had his head turned. For us it is months of work that have gone up in smoke. We had found a balance. Now we need to start over again."

Gasset does have alternatives though, with deadline-day loan signings Valentín Vada from Girondins de Bordeaux and Youssef Aït Bennasser from AS Monaco coming in to bolster his squad. Meanwhile, the likes of Ramy Bensebaini, Ludovic Baal, Romain Danzé and James Léa-Siliki have been on the injury list for Rennes.

Probable teams

Rennes: Koubek; Traoré, Da Silva (c), Mexer, Zeffane; Grenier, Bourigeaud; Sarr, Ben Arfa, Niang; Siebatcheu 

Saint-Etienne: Ruffier; Perrin (c), Subotic, Kolodziejczak; Debuchy, Monnet-Paquet, Aït Bennasser, Gabriel Silva; Cabella; Diony, Hamouma

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