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Liverpool primed for CL return

By Agence France-Presse in Liverpool (China Daily) Updated: 2014-09-16 09:11

Champions League soccer will return to Anfield for the first time in five years on Tuesday when Liverpool hosts Bulgarian champion Ludogorets Razgrad in their opening Group B fixture.

It was December 2009 when Liverpool last played a match in Europe's elite competition, losing 2-1 at home to Fiorentina, and the only two survivors from that game in its squad are Martin Skrtel and captain Steven Gerrard.

Four years in the wilderness followed - the legacy of finishing seventh, sixth, eighth and seventh in the Premier League - before last season's thrilling title tilt catapulted the five-time European champion back into the big time.

"We can't wait to get going. It is so exciting as we worked really hard last season to get into the top four and now we get rewarded for that by being in the Champions League this year," Gerrard told Radio City.

"You are almost jealous and envious of the players who have been playing in it over the years when we have missed out."

The figurehead of Liverpool's stunning comeback against AC Milan in the 2005 final in Istanbul, Gerrard has already engraved his name in the club's European folklore.

If he harbors any regrets on his return to the Champions League, it will be over the absence of Luis Suarez, who was sold to Barcelona after his 31 goals helped Liverpool secure second place last season.

A thigh injury to Daniel Sturridge means Liverpool will be without the strike force that helped bring a swagger back to Anfield in 2013-14.

But several key performers from last season will be able to experience the Champions League for the first time, including in-form winger Raheem Sterling.

Manager Brendan Rod-gers, architect of the club's renaissance, has confirmed the 19-year-old will return to the starting XI after being rested for Saturday's 1-0 loss to Aston Villa.

Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana - who made his debut against Villa - will also sample the Champions League for the first time, but Emre Can and Lazar Markovic are suspended and there are injury doubts over Skrtel, Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan and Joe Allen.

"It's a huge game and a huge honor to play for Liverpool in the Champions League," said Lallana. "It's where the club belongs."

With Basel and defending champion Real Madrid the other teams in the group, Liverpool has extra incentive to mark its return to the competition with what would be its 100th win in the European Cup.

But although Ludogorets is making its first appearance in the group phase and has never played in England, there is nothing to suggest it will accept the role of sacrificial lambs.

(China Daily 09/16/2014 page24)

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