Liverpool will make their Champions League comeback with manager Brendan Rodgers warning Europe that the five-time competition winners are not returning as "tourists".
The Reds' exile from the elite competition ends tonight with the visit of Bulgaria's Ludogorets to Merseyside, and Rodgers has issued a reminder of the pedigree and status of the club he is leading "back where it belongs".
"Our excitement to again be playing Champions League football isn't a 'giddy' excitement," Rodgers said. "We are not tourists in this competition - we believe it is where we belong and where we should be playing.
"We are Liverpool, we are five times winners of the European Cup and we are synonymous with its best traditions. Our players are excited by the challenges ahead, not daunted by them."
Rodgers said he had been yearning and meticulously planning to take on the continent's best since enduring heartbreak in the final as a Chelsea coach in 2008.
As well as losing against Manchester United in Moscow, Rodgers was on the back-room staff under Jose Mourinho during his epic Anfield battles in 2005 and 2007. He said those experiences whetted his appetite as he prepared to follow the trail of only five other Liverpool managers to lead the club in the European Cup.
"I had an experience of a Champions League final in Moscow," he said. "I remember walking out of the tunnel when the teams were coming out and I was behind them. I was picturing myself as the manager in a Champions League final. I was framing the mindset that one day, if this was to happen, then I will have been here before.
"At that time in my mind I was preparing towards being the manager. With all the experiences of games in that period, they all helped me because in my mind I was looking at the game and making decisions as a manager.
"There have been many very good coaches that have never had the opportunity to work (at this level). I feel totally relaxed at the level and around the big games. This is it. I have worked all my life as a coach.
“I have been able to sample it in a second position really from a coaching perspective so I know the dynamics around the Champions League and the excitement it brings to everyone. . It’s something that I have really, really wanted to experience as a coach. At 41 to be able to get the chance to do it is really young but it’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
Having waited five years to make their return to the competition, Rodgers says it will be even tougher for the Merseyside club to retain their place given the Premier League competition for a top four spot.
“It’s difficult to get in it and it will be even harder to stay in it,”Rodgers said. “What qualification has done 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. That’s the challenge and the beauty of being in the Premier League.”
Rodgers, meanwhile, has awarded Jordan Henderson the vice-captaincy following the departure of Daniel Agger. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
It has taken 1,742 days, four managers, 44 first team signings at a cost in excess of £400million, a change of club ownership and one of the grubbiest legal squabbles in Premier League history. For Liverpool – the club that displays their European Cup at the training ground – the Champions League return has come at a price.
For all the rich possibilities of the new Champions League campaign at Anfield, it will take something special from Liverpool this season to match the drama their opening visitors, Ludogorets Razgrad, have already scripted simply to be there with them.