Steven Gerrard is relishing Liverpool’s return to Champions League action, and believes his club is capable of shocking the best teams in Europe, reports the Daily Mail.
Gerrard is set to lead Liverpool out against FC Ludogorets at Anfield tonight, in what will be the Reds first Champions League match in five years.
And the man who guided the club to victory in the competition back in 2005, is relishing a campaign back amongst Europe’s elite.
‘When you aren’t involved, there is a big jealousy,’ Gerrard admits. ‘I was jealous of the teams and players who were involved when Liverpool had nothing to do it with it. But that’s a good thing, isn’t it? It’s the best competition to play in at club level. There’s a hole there when you are out of it.
Gerrard was an integral part of the Liverpool sides that frequently reached the latter stages of the competition under Rafael Benitez, and admits his absence from the competition since has been tough to take.
‘Maybe you forget how lucky you are,’ he says. ‘When you are consistently getting to the latter stages and popping up in finals, it was such an unbelievable achievement. But I’ve got confidence that might not be too far away, if the owners continue to back (manager) Brendan Rodgers as they have done.
‘I’ve got a lot of confidence in Brendan and in the squad. Listen, I’ll put it another way. If we go out in the group stages, or the last 16, we will be majorly, majorly disappointed. We want to progress. We want to go as far as we can. This can’t be a one-off. This can’t be, “Isn’t it great where we are?”
‘This isn’t a reward for finishing second last year. I don’t see it as a reward. This is where Liverpool should be — and should be consistently. It’s the responsibility of myself and the players to give it our best crack. It is important that we have got the Champions League next year as well.
‘The players who haven’t sampled this and then get a taste of it — once they have had that taste I know they are going to love it. Hopefully, it will drive them on to want to keep it at Liverpool for a long time to come.’
It is now ten seasons since Gerrard guided Liverpool to that incredible success in the competition, coming back from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan on penalties.
But the 34-year-old admits he sometimes wonder how different his career may have been had the ‘miracle of Istanbul’ not taken place.
‘I can’t help but think about when Andriy Shevchenko decided to dink his penalty,’ says Gerrard, rewinding to the climax of the shootout that Liverpool won 3-2. ‘If he had put his laces through it or smashed it in to the corner, maybe I’d be sitting here talking about playing in two losing European Cup finals.
‘I know I was going to be our fifth penalty taker but maybe I could have missed? They are the small details at this level. It is the decision-making from big players in big moments. If he hadn’t dinked his penalty, the pressure on me would have be humongous. Who knows what would have happened?
‘We understand that we are not one of the favourites,’ he added. ‘There are some big hitters that people will be tipping to win it, but the message from me, as captain of this team, is that we are not making up the numbers. No way.
‘We have got such a big advantage over two legs, with Anfield, that other teams haven’t got. Let me tell you right now: you come to Anfield, you’re getting a terribly hard 90 minutes. And we are going to make it even harder for you.’
The Reds have struggled to replicate the blistering form they showed so consistently last season, losing two of their opening four Premier League matches.
Pundits and supporters have been quick to claim the loss of Luis Suarez is proving difficult to adjust to, but Gerrard has given his backing to the £16million striker brought in to replace the Uruguayan.
‘There is no doubt Luis Suarez is going to be one of the big players in the Champions League this season,’ Gerrard says. ‘I know how much he wants to play in the competition. I had many conversations with him about it. But we have got Mario now and we have got to move on.
‘If we get the best out of him, we have got him. If people want to write stories about him and say that he is crazy or he is a nutter, let them. But he is one of us now. We have welcomed him into this clubs with open arms and we want to help him succeed. Everyone is hoping he is going to be a hit. He has got a great set of team-mates who will work for him and back him. He has got to do the same for us.’