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Could Liverpool Be a Champions League Dark Horse?

16/09/2014 17:17 BST | Updated 16/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Liverpool's return to the Champions League comes 10 years on from the start of the campaign which saw them defeat AC Milan in memorable fashion in the final to become only the second English club to win the rebranded Champions League.

With five European Cup/Champions League titles to their name, Liverpool are one of the most successful teams in Europe and their return is highly anticipated not just by Reds fans, but by those on the continent too. The fact that this could be one of captain Steven Gerrard's last shots at further Champions League glory gives this all the makings of a potential fairytale campaign.

A lot has changed in European football during Liverpool's five year absence. For one, Bayern Munich have now pushed them down into fourth place regarding the most successful teams in the competition, after their victory in 2013 and runner-up place the year before.

While missing out on Champions League football for five years isn't the same as being relegated from the Premier League and promoted back a few years later, it does mean a few players in the current Liverpool squad are inexperienced in the competition. The likes of Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana, Jordan Henderson and a few others may have been to the World Cup, but none have set foot on a pitch during midweek to face the Bulgarian football league's finest.

Along with some players' lack of experience, manager Brendan Rodgers hasn't managed in the competition before either. This combination could work to Liverpool's advantage though. Given how fearless Sterling and Lallana have seemed on the international stage, there's no reason they'll be fazed here. And of course there is the experience of Steven Gerrard behind them as well as unlikely former Champions League winners Daniel Sturridge and Mario Balotelli.

Liverpool haven't been handed the easiest return with a group featuring last season's champions Real Madrid, Swiss Super League winners FC Basel and new boys Ludogorets. It's a group they can realistically get out of though and will hope the fear factor of their historic European standing will unnerve the latter of those two, especially for home matches.

Real Madrid may be less concerned by the history, but despite all their Galácticos they have proved beatable so far this season. Liverpool too haven't had the best start in the league, but it's still early days and the prospect of facing Europe's best is sure to get the team more than fired up. Their squad may be majorly different from the 2004-5 campaign, but Liverpool fans will be hoping the team is still a different, mightier beast when it comes to the Champions League. After all, they did finish fifth behind arch-rivals Everton in the league that same season.

Of course, how far they can go will depend on the draw for the latter stages, where they're at in the league and whether Balotelli, Markovic, Can and the rest click. On paper Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, PSG and even Chelsea and Manchester City appear too strong for Liverpool, but across two games anything could happen. Last season Liverpool overachieved, so being out of the title race (a lot) earlier could improve their chances in the competition, much as it did for Chelsea in 2012 and as mentioned, themselves in 2005.

That night in Munich for Chelsea felt like everything fell into place with Didier Drogba grabbing the late equaliser and slotting home the winning penalty in what was (supposed to be) his final game for the club. Take heart from that, Atlético Madrid's antics last year and the exciting talent currently at the club and who's to say Liverpool can't go far?

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