CELTIC manager Neil Lennon is ready to give new signing Freddie Ljungberg a Scottish Cup baptism of fire with a debut at Shielfield Park on Sunday.
The Swedish international midfielder missed his new team’s 2-0 victory over Rangers in the New Year derby at Ibrox with a virus, but is expected to be fit enough to feature for the first time against Berwick Rangers in the Scottish Cup.
Ljungberg, 33, has joined Celtic until the end of the season after terminating his contract with West Ham United and has spent the past two seasons playing for Major League Soccer sides Seattle Sounders and Chicago Fire in the USA.
The former Arsenal wide man has not played competitive football since scoring in his final match for Chicago Fire, a 4-1 win away to Chivas USA in California on October 23, but Lennon has been impressed by his fitness levels in training.
Ljungberg enjoyed a nine-year spell at Arsenal, who he signed for from Halmstads BK in 1998. The goalscoring Swede was part of Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ side who won the 2002 league title without losing a single game and also starred in the 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona in Paris.
Now the man with 75 caps to his name will be up against Berwick’s Third Division part-timers.
With a hectic fixture schedule, games are coming thick and fast for Celtic, so Lennon will be keen to give Ljungberg a taste of competitive action in the Scottish Cup.
Berwick manager Jimmy Crease said: “We’ve had Celtic watched three times. Now we also have Freddie Ljungberg to think about because it looks as if he will play and it’s a great introduction for him to come in.
“It’s hard enough for us at any time. Celtic are always going to have an advantage with their fitness being full-time, but it’s actual game time we’re short of now. It’s disappointing but we’ll just get on with it.”
Lennon is likely to make several changes, but after last year’s embarrassing semi-final exit at the hands of Ross County the Celtic manager won’t be taking Berwick lightly and will field a strong team.
This weekend’s clash will will be too soon for Celtic’s top scorer, Gary Hooper, who is recovering from injury, while Lennon will also be without Korean pair Cha Du-ri and Ki Sung-yueng, who are on national team duty at the Asian Cup.