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Irrespective of the result of tonight's game, Liverpool Football Club is back in the competition that has elevated it above all its rivals in the English game. Real Madrid at Anfield -- this is how it should be.

There was such good hair in the group that Mario resorted to wearing a snood on his head. A snood. On his head. Yup.
There was such good hair in the group that Mario resorted to wearing a snood on his head. A snood. On his head. Yup.
Alex Livesey

There are those amongst you, suffused with a joyous optimism, who are defiantly buoyant and bullish this morning, as the as the clock ticks down to tonight's clash between two genuine aristocrats of the European stage. Others, thoroughly rattled by the enormity of the occasion, are more likely to be incapable of concentrating due to the elephantine butterflies in your stomach (you really should get that checked, mixed metaphor gut infestation is no joke). Still others, having witnessed last night's utter humiliation of a proud Roma side by Bayern Munich, will be resolutely downcast, crushed by the fear of potential embarrassment at the hands of Cristiano, James et al.

Whichever category you fall into, take solace in the fact that your football club is in a position to elicit such extreme emotion from you on the back of their return to the continent's premier football competition. Since 2009, Liverpool v Los Blancos has only been an option on your chosen games console. Tonight, it happens for Real, as Carlo Ancelotti brings his team of absurdly talented and expensive footballers to Anfield in search of a third successive win in the group stage of the Champions League. The enormity of this cannot be understated. It's no wonder folk are emotionally fraught. Of late, your poor beleaguered scribbler has found himself repeatedly saying the words Champions League, caressing them, savouring them, willing them into being, in some kind of perverse twist on the Candyman legend.

It means so much, you see, this competition. It's become the yardstick by which the top clubs judge themselves. Consider how long Real Madrid had toiled to finally attain La Decima. The hundreds of millions spent to no avail, the wailing and gnashing of teeth since 2002 as they watched their hated Catalonian rivals claim the trophy three times and Liverpool take the famous old pot home for good. If a team with the limitless resources and cachet of Real cannot become European champions for 11 years, it is a fair indicator of the competitiveness of the tournament.

For a while during that same period, under Rafa Benitez, Liverpool were arguably a greater power in European football, a theory lent credence by the aggregate 5-0 beating they doled out to the Madridistas in 2009. Times, have certainly changed and although the Redmen have started to soar away from the Hodgsonian lows of recent years, they remain an emergent and developing side - a work in progress, whilst their quarry tonight are at the peak of their powers -- continental champions who have added a raft of obscenely talented supplements to their ranks since claiming Big Ears for the tenth time.

In James Rodriguez, Karim Benzema and Isco, Real have some eye-wateringly good attacking talent but the key figure will no doubt be preening Portuguese peacock, Cristiano Ronaldo. How can he not be? The man is a stunningly effective footballer. With 271 strikes in 258 appearance for Real and 394 in 581 career appearances, Ronaldo is that player you cheatingly create on the aforementioned XBox or Playstation. His goalscoring and power in possession are often almost comically incongruous in certain games. There are times when he resembles an absurdly muscular twelve year old marauding his way through a defence of children half his age, before mercilessly bursting the net and self indulgently posturing in front of his hapless opponents.

I know what you're thinking, but happily, Brendan Rodgers is unlikely to play the same defence that managed to concede two goals to QPR in the last 9 minutes, with Alberto Moreno surely a cert to replace naked selfie guru, José Enrique. This, at least, is a blesséd relief. Anfield's doyen of social media was a terrifying liability on his last outing and surely needs to step out. The other three members of Sunday's comedy of errors will likely remain intact and if you are terrified by the prospect of Cristiano bearing down on Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren, you are not alone. However, if there was ever a time for this side to begin to mend its greatest flaw -- the concession of stupid goals -- tonight would be it.

Defence aside, it is hard to not be excited by this encounter. Steven Gerrard, a key figure in so much that was good about Liverpool's destruction of Madrid last time around, is understandably pumped ahead of the match. The captain, who turned his form around to such effect last season, endured a wretched couple of months in which the title slipped away (I know) and he was doomed to the inevitable failure of leading a Roy Hodgson team at the World Cup. In the interim, Gerrard has looked a shadow of himself but the Huyton man is not one to shirk a challenge and he was absolutely unequivocal in his insistence that Liverpool intend to compete now that they are finally back in the big time.

"I just hope no one from the outside thinks we are merely going into these games to enjoy ourselves and settle for being in the Champions’ League, because we won’t go in worrying about the big names," averred the Anfield legend. "You have to embrace it and say to yourself we are a good team as well; we have good players. Real Madrid have been beaten twice this season already. It is not impossible – they do have off nights and we have a big advantage in our fans.

"We showed last year against big opponents at Anfield, with the crowd behind us we can perform at a top level," the captain continued. "I have more confidence in my teammates the bigger the game. We know how difficult the game is going to be but I'm really confident we can surprise a few people because we are a good team. We've had a stuttering season so far, but I just have confidence that the players are going to be up for this one. Every time there has been a big question asked of this squad we have always risen to the occasion and done really well. We always seem to play better the better the opposition are."

Let us hope, fellow Reds, that Signor Balotelli and chums are listening to their leader's exhortations and expressions of faith. Should Liverpool's enigmatic front man fire, with the dynamic, creative likes of Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Gerrard himself simultaneously on song, then Los Merengues may find themselves eaten alive by the passion and fury that only an enthused Anfield crowd can muster.