Ljungberg primed for Old Firm cauldron

CELTIC new boy Freddie Ljungberg insists he is fit and ready to return to the form which made him a star at Arsenal.

The 33-year-old Swedish midfielder has signed for the Hoops until the end of the season at least with a view to a longer-term deal at Parkhead.

However, Celtic fans will recall Ljungberg’s injury problems at West Ham after leaving the Gunners and before he moved to the USA.

For the last 18 months Ljungberg has played in the States with Seattle Sounders and latterly Chicago Fire, and could make his debut against Rangers in tomorrow’s Old Firm derby at Ibrox.

However, speaking to the media at Celtic‘s Lennoxtown training complex, Ljungberg promised sceptics that his only problem is match fitness.

“I must say that people ask about what happened,” he said. “I had a problem with my hip and nobody knew what it was.

“It affected my hamstring a little bit and I was running around with that for two years. Luckily I found a doctor when I was in America and he found my hip had been broken for a while so he fixed it.

“Since then I haven’t had any problems. I feel really fit and now I feel I can run past people and move again like the old days.

“I am delighted to be here, first of all, and we will see how I feel in training,” he continued.

“But I am in quite good shape and will see how I feel and if I can help the team.

“I played with Johan Mjallby and Henrik Larsson with the national team for a long time and they spoke about it (the Old Firm game) and I have seen it on television.

“Friends have also been to the game and I am really looking forward to it.”

Ljungberg has been handed the iconic number seven shirt at Celtic worn in the past by his former Sweden team mate Larsson, among other Hoops legends.

The former Hammer admits to being honoured but not intimidated.

“When I was at Arsenal I had Ian Wright’s number and he was a legend there,” he said.

“I’ll try to do the same here with the number seven shirt — to wear it with pride and do my best.”

Ljungberg also spoke of his delight at moving back to European football following his American adventure.

“In America the league is much better than it gets credit for but Celtic are a massive club and what I missed the most in America was the passion for the sport,” he said.

“If you’re looking for passion then it’s here. There is great support. The fans and the passion are very good here and it’s a great team.

“Celtic is a very big club with great management staff too.”

Celtic go in to the game in Govan one point clear of Rangers at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League but having played two games more than their Old Firm rivals.

With skipper Scott Brown suspended and Olivier Kapo and Daryl Murphy out injured, Lennon is hugely tempted to start Ljungberg in a bid to increase the gap.

“My only concern is that Freddie hasn’t played a lot of football since October, he hasn’t played any,” he said.

“I don’t want to bring him in and then he breaks down because he has that lack of football or training.

“I will talk to the medical staff and Freddie over the next couple of days.

“But there is a huge temptation to play him because he is a quality player.

“He is only 33, there is plenty in him. We want to come here and enjoy it and make his mark.”

The Swede couldn’t have picked a more highly charged game to make his debut as Rangers prepare to mark the 40th anniversary of the Ibrox Disaster.

The Scottish champions will remember the 66 people who lost their lives at an Old Firm derby on January 2, 1971 tomorrow and have a number of tributes planned, including a minute’s silence ahead of kick-off.

Rangers’ Steven Davis is well aware that the highly-anticipated derby will be even more emotionally-charged than usual but has no fears about the players’ ability to cope with the occasion.

The midfielder said: “I don’t think we need to be shielded. We are totally aware of the situation and the disaster that occurred.

“It will mean a lot to so many people, especially the families who were affected by it. We are definitely aware of that.

“I think the best we can do as players is go out there and perform on the pitch and get the right result.

“Hopefully that will bring a little bit of comfort to the people involved in the disaster.”

Rangers claimed first blood in the opening Old Firm derby of the season with an emphatic 3-1 win at Celtic Park but Davis refuted suggestions they will be favourites on home turf this time.

“Not at all,” he said.

“In any Old Firm game I’ve been involved in, there has been very little between the sides and the games are always evenly balanced and can turn on a split decision or a piece of magic.

“I think it will be the same as usual (tomorrow).”

Lennon ‘praying’ for silence

NEIL LENNON has called for the minute’s silence before tomorrow’s Old Firm clash with Rangers at Ibrox to be given the “dignity it deserves”.

The tribute is in honour of the 66 people who died in a crush on stairway 13 at the stadium on January 2, 1971, following a drawn game between Rangers and Celtic.

The Light Blues’ skipper that day, John Greig, and Hoops captain of that era, Billy McNeill, will lead out the teams, who will both wear black armbands.

And while there is a nervousness about how some of the visiting fans might react during the silence, the Celtic boss is “praying” it all goes without a hitch before the battle between the two sides begins.

“That will put everything into perspective,” Lennon said.

“It was a huge tragedy and I hope and pray that the ceremony is conducted with the dignity it deserves. It’s not a footballing issue, it’s a human issue, a human tragedy and it’s important that those people are remembered.”

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