After pausing to appreciate the excitement of his club being back among the elite of the Champions League, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard clicked into competitive mode and insisted that the Reds can compete on the European stage.

Thursday's group stage draw in Monaco paired the five-time winners of the tournament with the side that most recently hoisted aloft the trophy in May of this year - Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid.

Swiss outfit FC Basel and Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad completed the section, as supporters around the world, the players and manager Brendan Rodgers at Melwood watched on with excitement.

Gerrard was a thrilled spectator at home, relishing Liverpool's return to the Champions League following a five-year absence, but in typically studious fashion it wasn't long before the midfielder began focusing on the challenges ahead.

"It was massive - I planned my whole day around the Champions League draw, I had friends and family round and we had it on the television," he explained to

"We couldn't wait for it, it was so exciting. I've missed it so much. There's almost a jealousy when you watch the Champions League and you're not involved in it.

"It's a horrible thing to do - you want to be part of it. It's the ultimate competition. I'm just as excited as any supporter and anyone connected to the club. I can't wait for it to start.

"It's a tough group and there are some tough games in there, but it's an exciting group and certainly a group that we can progress from. That's the key. The first challenge is to get out of the group.

"We welcome the champions to Anfield and that will be a special occasion. But over the six games, we can accumulate enough points to get out of the group. I've got confidence and belief in the team."


Carlo Ancelotti's star-studded Real team - European Cup winners on 10 occasions - will visit Anfield on October 22 before Rodgers' squad make the return journey to the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid 13 days later.

Gerrard echoed the sentiments of a number of his colleagues who had hoped to draw the La Liga giants, particularly as the double-header presents a chance for the Reds to test their credentials against the cream of world football.

He continued: "They were one of the sides that all of the players wanted, and certainly the supporters. The supporters can't wait to get over to Madrid and have a good time.

"For us, it's a chance to go and compete against the best. We're not in this competition to make the numbers up, we're not celebrating and going out to enjoy this competition - we want to compete and go as far as we can.

"So we're going to work as hard as we can and treat every team in the group the same. But, of course, it's going to be an exciting encounter when Real come to Anfield and also us going away as well. I can't wait for it.

"It's a chance for us to compete against some of the best players in the world, the likes of Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and Karim Benzema.

"These are all star names that come to your mind when you're trying to think of the group of best players in the world.

"We're quite a new team, so it's a great chance for our lads to compete and see how good we are and how far we've come. We've got a lot of respect for Real Madrid but we certainly have confidence we can compete with them."

Liverpool have crossed swords with Real three times in European competition and have ran out victors on every single occasion, including the final in Paris that brought a third honour back to Merseyside in 1981.

Five years ago, Gerrard was part of a squad that dismantled the Spaniards over two legs in the Champions League, scoring twice at Anfield en route to a stunning 5-0 aggregate victory.

Reflecting on an historic result, he said: "I was a bit disappointed not to start the game away in the Bernabeu but I got a cameo and we also won the game through a fantastic header by Yossi [Benayoun].

"Rafa [Benitez] set the team up fantastically well and we frustrated them and managed to nick the result. That's what it's all about in the Champions League.

"At home, I thought we played them off the park - a 4-0 win and it could have been a lot more. Hopefully we get similar results but it's going to be a lot tougher this time because they have improved an awful lot."

As the interview draws to a close, the skipper allows himself a second to consider the emotion he will feel as the first match of the Champions League campaign - at home to Ludogorets - gets underway next month.

It's fleeting, though, before his mentality realigns to the tasks at hand, prompting the No.8 to draw on his extensive experience in the competition and issue an early message to his teammates.

"For a moment I'll be really proud - it's an achievement for how well we did and how consistent we were last year," he concluded.

"It's a sense of accomplishment but that needs to go very quickly. The message from me to the rest of the players is that we've got to be on our toes for a quick start and we've got to get points on the board as quickly as we can.

"My experience is that if you win your first game, you don't go far wrong. We'll be trying to get three points in that opener."