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Gerrard relishing Champions League return

Updated: Friday, 05 Sep 2014 18:50 | Comments

Steven Gerrard in action against Lyon during Liverpool's last Champions League campaign in 2009/10
Steven Gerrard in action against Lyon during Liverpool's last Champions League campaign in 2009/10

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is eagerly anticipating Liverpool's return to the Champions League later this month.

The Reds, five-time winners of the competition, are back among Europe's elite for the first time in four years when they kick-off their campaign at home to Bulgarian outsiders Ludogorets in just under a fortnight.

It cannot come soon enough for Gerrard, who lifted the trophy in 2005 after a famous final in Istanbul.

"When you watch the Champions League and you're not involved there's jealousy and envy seeing other players play on the big stage and hearing that Champions League music," he said.

"You are competing against the best players in Europe and it is the number one competition in the world to play in.

"It is the trophy every player dreams of winning and because of the experience I have gained over the years I was so desperate to taste it again, even if it was just one more time."

However, Gerrard will not settle for being a one-season wonder in the Champions League as the minimum requirement at Anfield this season is to secure their place for next year.

But having come so close to winning the Premier League last May the Reds captain believes they have to start turning their promise into something more tangible as manager Brendan Rodgers begins his third season in charge.

"Without getting too carried away I think we are now a very good team and I think we can become excellent as there is still room for improvement," he said in an interview with American network NBC.

"The rule at Liverpool is quite clear. You try to win every comeptiton you enter.

"He (Rodgers) has been here for two years and I think he is desperate to get a trophy in the cabinet - that is goal number one.

"It is very important we maintain our place in the Champions League but after the journey we went on last year and the confidence we gained from it I think we are genuine title contenders as we have proved we can mix it with anyone in this league."

"When you watch the Champions League and you're not involved there's jealousy and envy seeing other players play on the big stage and hearing that Champions League music." - Steven Gerrard

Gerrard believes, irrespective of the signings they have made this summer, Rodgers remains a pivotal figure in any future success.

"Tactically he is very clever, reacts to situations, changes things for the better, see problems and adjusts things very quickly," said the recently-retired England international.

"In the two years I have worked with him he is up there with the best of them and I've worked with (Rafael) Benitez, (Fabio) Capello, (Roy) Hodgson - big names.

"He can play any formation he wants to play as he knows he has the personnel and he is not scared to change formation from game to game or tinker with it as the game is going on.

"He is a players' manager, a manager you want to work hard for and win for.

"He shows the players unbelievable respect, he treats them like his own children and creates an unbelievable atmosphere to work in.
"I have been blown away by how sharp he is in the dressing room, how quick he is to see a problem."

Meanwhile, Ludogorets will have a partial closure of their ground for their first home Champions League group match against Real Madrid after being punished for racist behaviour by fans.

The Bulgarians have been punished by UEFA for a number of incidents in the final qualifying match against Steaua Bucharest, including a €6,000 fine for the improper conduct of the team, €5,000 for insufficient organisation and €5,000 for a pitch invasion.

Steaua have also been punished for racist behaviour by fans and will have to play their first Europa League Group J game against Danish side Aalborg behind closed doors.

The Romanian club has also been fined €50,000 for the racist conduct, €10,000 for setting off fireworks and throwing of missiles and €4,500 for the improper conduct of the team.

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