When Liverpool secured a spot in the Champions League after five years in the wilderness, their low UEFA coefficient always meant they were going to face at least one European giant in the group stages. The only question was which. And the answer, it turned out, was the biggest—both historically and in the current edition of the competition.
"We're just back in the Champions League, so I'm not sure they'll be coming in here with any fear," Steven Gerrard said when asked if he thought Real Madrid would arrive at Anfield with any fear. "I don't think there are many teams, right now, that this Madrid side would fear. But for us it's a fantastic challenge, and we're hoping that we can surprise and shock a few people tomorrow night."
Madrid may not fear this Liverpool side, but then Madrid didn't fear Liverpool the last time the two sides met. And on that occasion, Liverpool won both legs of their knockout stage meeting. This time around, though, Liverpool are even bigger underdogs. Last season's side would have been an upset favourite, but so far this season Liverpool haven't looked able to recreate last term's attacking threat.
"It's been a stuttering start to the season," admitted the Liverpool captain when asked about the club's struggles to produce the kind of thrilling football they did last season. "We've had a lot of new players in, so it's only natural that we're going to have some teething problems, but I have huge confidence in this group, that we can get back to the heights of last season. It won't be very long."
Tomorrow would be a good time to rediscover some of last season's form, especially as Liverpool are likely to need at least one point from their matches against Madrid to advance. At Anfield is probably the best chance of that, and whatever happens, the goal will be for Liverpool to be able to end the night without too many regrets over what might have been—a point echoed by the captain's reflections on his career.
"It's always flattering to be linked to a club like Real Madrid," he said. "I had chances to go there in my career. I always resisted the temptation because of my connection with my hometown club. Maybe I'll regret it further down the line, that I didn't give myself the challenge or take a chance to play in another country, but I know I would have regretted it more if I'd left Liverpool, the club I love."