Rodgers says Liverpool must embrace Champions League return

Manager acknowledged preserving place with European elite is greater challenge than sealing a return with last season’s second-placed finish

Brendan Rodgers

said that Liverpool must embrace their Champions League return, but warned that remaining among the European elite will be harder than qualifying after a five-year absence.

Tonight Liverpool host Bulgarian champs Ludogorets Razgrad in the Reds' first Champions League game since December 2009, with Jordan Henderson confirmed as the club's new vice-captain

The club qualified for Europe’s premier competition eight times in nine seasons under Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benitez, finishing as winners, runners-up, semi-finalists and quarter-finalists with the Spaniard. They then faltered under the near-ruinous ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Rodgers’s team also face the holders, Real Madrid and Basel in Group B. However, considering the competition for a top-four place in the Premier League, the Liverpool manager acknowledged that preserving a Champions League place in the future is a greater challenge than sealing a return with last season’s second-placed finish.

Back to those glory days?

“The club had a great period for many years in the Champions League and was then out of it, with all the struggles that brings,” said Rodgers, whose team will go up against Ludogorets without the injured Daniel Sturridge, Martin Skrtel and Joe Allen.

“We are still a work in progress in many aspects of the football team and the club, but it’s very important for us to embrace everything about it and look to ensure we stay in it. I think it’s difficult to get in it and it will be even harder to stay in it. That’s the reality.

“It has brought greater resources to the club and allows us to add depth and strength and build something here, but it doesn’t make it any easier. It’s still going to be remarkably difficult. You’ve got a fight on your hands to be up in it every year, but that’s something we are looking forward to doing.”

Rodgers has appointed Henderson as vice-captain to Steven Gerrard following the departure of Daniel Agger to Brondby, illustrating the impressive form of a player who could have joined Fulham during Rodgers's first summer.

“Jordan represents a lot of what we are about,” Rodgers said. “I said to him he’s the moral conscience of our team. Him and Stevie are the moral compass of our group in terms of how they conduct themselves on and off the field, how they train and how they work.

“He has really grown in confidence. You see now for club and country that he holds himself really well, he’s got a great stature and I think he will be around here for years to come.”

Bulgarians at the gates

Ludogorets are only the second Bulgarian team to reach the group stages and will start with Milan Borjan in goal only four days after signing the Canadian on an emergency basis.

The first-choice goalkeeper, Vladislav Stoyanov, is suspended, having been sent off in the playoff defeat of Steaua Bucharest when his replacement, the defender Cosmin Moti, saved two penalties in the shootout. Understudy Ivan Cvorovic then suffered a shoulder injury last Thursday, prompting the move for the free agent Borjan.

“It was a situation that no one was able to predict,” said coach Georgi Dermendzhiev. “Everything is confirmed by Uefa and everything is by the book. He is a free agent and he will be the goalkeeper tomorrow. We can’t allow some technical mistake at this stage.” Guardian Service

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