The prospect of a Champions League final to end the season is becoming more of a fixture than a treat for Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain. But the man who is four games away from his third final in four seasons no longer views Rafael Benitez's European odysseys as miraculous, unexpected adventures.
Instead, after Tuesday's defeat of Internazionale at San Siro earned Liverpool a place in the quarter-finals, Gerrard said that his team have established a pedigree in the competition that meant their progress was fully deserved. The Liverpool captain said yesterday his team had acquired a momentum of late – surely a reference to the reduced emphasis on rotation in Benitez's selection policy.
"We have got momentum, we have, there is no doubt about that, and it could be important," Gerrard said. "We are playing very, very well now. We cannot get carried away, because there are some monster teams left in it, but we are playing a lot better now.
"In Europe we are a force, we do not fear anyone. We have got great experience in Europe, we have been there and we know what it is all about. I don't want to say who we want to play and who we don't but I think we can let the rest worry about us, because we have got the pedigree in this competition. Our record in the Champions League speaks for itself, we don't have to defend ourselves or say how good we are. I honestly believe our record says we are a great team in Europe."
Gerrard's own pairing with Fernando Torres in the heart of Benitez's reinvented side seems to have mollified the Liverpool captain, who only last month was complaining about the "embarrassment" of his club's place in the league table. As ever under Benitez, the mood has changed very quickly since defeat to Barnsley in the FA Cup that came only 25 days before the win in Milan.
Liverpool play Reading on Saturday but it will be their games over the following two weekends – against Manchester United and Everton – that truly decide their league fate. However, with tomorrow's Champions League draw involving all four of the Premier League's original entrants, Gerrard said that results in this year's competition were vindication for an "incredibly strong" league.
"It shows that the English teams are up there as arguably the best in Europe," Gerrard said. "It wouldn't surprise me if an English team wins it, and it wouldn't surprise me if there are two English teams in the final – that's the strength of the Premiership right now.
"It is an incredibly strong league, we can see that every week when we play. There are some incredible players in the Premiership, and the teams are strong. Ask the Italian sides what they think about English football, and I think they'll tell you the same thing.
"But honestly, I think you could see it coming. If you look at how the English teams have done in the last four or five years and see how they have performed, then it tells you that they have had the quality, and I don't think that it is too much of a surprise that all four have qualified for this stage."
With four English teams in the quarter-finals, the chances of meeting a league rival are high, but Benitez would rather avoid such a match. He said: "Our form is coming good at just the right time of the season.
"I would be happy to play another English team in the final but for now, with the quarter-final draw coming up, I would prefer we were drawn against a non-English team because everyone knows that the top three in the Premier League are all outstanding. Very strong.
"The fact that four English clubs are in the quarter-finals shows that the Premier League is one of the best leagues in Europe and the world.
"The quality of the top four, the quality of the players, shows our league is very strong. For us to go through to the quarter-finals for what is the third time in four seasons, is a tremendous achievement for the club.
"I felt we had the game under control even before Inter had a man sent off. But always it is easier to play 11 against 10.
"They had chances in the first half, but once we scored then there was a massive difference in the game. [Goalkeeper] Pepe Reina was outstanding in the first period, he made some fantastic saves and that too was key to the win.
"As for Fernando, he is improving, we all know he can get better. But he is doing his job very well for us, and I am really happy with him.
"I am really pleased with my team. They can be better, but this has been an important period, we have won six in succession now."Reuse content