Celtic on high alert for Larsson return

Click to follow
The Independent Football

When Celtic beat Barcelona in the Uefa Cup last season, they did so without the usual goalscoring contribution from Henrik Larsson. The Celtic manager, Martin O'Neill, is hoping that the Swede has another barren night when he returns to Parkhead for an emotional reunion tonight.

With fate decreeing that Larsson should go back to Parkhead for the opening Champions' League Group F encounter just three months after he left for Barcelona, there is a fear that the occasion could drown in sentimentality. After all, this is no ordinary player, but the man who netted 242 goals for Celtic, including two in last year's Uefa Cup final defeat by Porto.

"Henrik should be afforded a fantastic welcome because of what he did here," O'Neill said. "He is an absolute superstar and I'm sure he will get a wonderful reception before the game. However, if the fans are going to be applauding him every time he makes a pass, we could be in trouble.

"You can be sure that if Henrik is in front of goal, he is not going to deliberately miss because it's Celtic. He is the ultimate professional. But we must be too. When the whistle goes, he becomes an opposition player just like all the others."

Celtic have won five out of their last six Champions' League group games at home, with only Bayern Munich's 0-0 draw there last term denting the record. Barcelona themselves became Parkhead victims, they lost 1-0 in the fourth round of the Uefa Cup.

"Barcelona have improved just a wee bit since then," O'Neill said. "They have spent £45m on new players and taken our best one, Henrik, off us. They are a side who have genuine ambitions of winning the Champions' League and the Spanish title. However, there is no point in going into anything being frightened by what you face."

Celtic's Chris Sutton has battled to overcome a hamstring injury, but Barcelona will be without Thiago Motta, who has a knee injury.

Celtic (probable 4-4-2): Marshall; Agathe, Baldé, Varga, McNamara; Petrov, Lennon, Juninho, Thompson; Hartson, Camara.

Barcelona (probable 4-4-2): Valdes; Belleti, Puyol, Edmilson, Oleguer; Giuly, Xavi, Ronaldinho, Deco; Eto'o, Larsson.

Referee: M Merk (Ger).