Liverpool prove worthy champions pays tribute to the Liverpool FC side who last December were staring at a UEFA Champions League group-stage exit but went on to lift the trophy.

Viewed through the prism of their recent Premiership form and cruise into the last 16 of this season's UEFA Champions League, Liverpool FC's fifth European Champion Clubs' Cup triumph seems less of a bolt from the blue than it did last May.

Mourinho unimpressed
The dramatic circumstances of the final - in which Liverpool overcame a 3-0 interval deficit against AC Milan to win on penalties - and the fact that the Reds finished 37 points off the pace in fifth position in the Premiership were used by some to denigrate their achievement. Title-winning Chelsea FC manager José Mourinho's assessment that "many times the winners of the Champions League are not the best team in Europe, Liverpool were not" was indicative.

Emotional run
Mourinho may have a point but Liverpool were not lucky. They qualified from their group by scoring two goals in the final ten minutes of Matchday 6 against Olympiacos CFP, crushed a Bayer 04 Leverkusen team that had defeated Real Madrid CF earlier in the competition, overcame Italian champions Juventus in an emotional 2-1 aggregate win and saw off Chelsea, who had previously beaten them three times in 2004/05, by a single goal. The pièce de la résistance was three goals in six minutes against arguably Europe's most fabled defence before that shoot-out success.

Roxburgh's view
Determined defending and a never-say-die attitude were key factors. UEFA Technical Director Andy Roxburgh observed: "[Liverpool's] greatest asset last season was never giving up. It wasn't just in the final. They needed three goals against Olympiacos to get to the knockout stages and did it. They had spirit and leadership - not only on the pitch, where Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were inspirational, but also off it, where Rafael Benítez was able to turn things around."

Next task
Unusually, the European title came at the start of a team-building process, not the culmination. Liverpool's previous four triumphs came when they were dominating England. Even FC Porto's unexpected success in 2004 was prefaced by their UEFA Cup triumph a year before. Talismanic defender Carragher summed up the feeling of thousands of fans starved of league title success since 1990 when he set out Liverpool's aims at the start of this season: "We've got to be genuine challengers for the title. We're European champions and the next thing has to be to look to win our domestic league."

Crucial wins
After two wins in their opening eight league games that seemed a forlorn aim but Liverpool have since hit form and are finally showing the virtues that brought them European glory - not least with late goals to win crucial matches against Aston Villa FC and Middlesbrough FC. The defence that frustrated Juventus and Chelsea ended 2005 setting a club record of eleven consecutive clean sheets; goalkeeper José Manuel Reina, a summer signing from Villarreal CF, unbeaten in more than 1,000 minutes before conceding in the FIFA Club World Championship final.

Fluid midfield
Further forward, Benítez's subtle tactical tweaks are paying off. The tough-tackling of Mohamed Sissoko, the peerless passing of Xabi Alonso, the leadership of Steven Gerrard and the unpredictability of Luis García has created a fluid formation in midfield. The gap to attack has been reduced thanks to the movement of Fernando Morientes while his ability to retain possession along with new signing Peter Crouch has seen Liverpool develop an effective ability to attack as a team.

No fluke
So seven months after that incredible night in Istanbul, Liverpool are in even better shape, well placed to prove that their fifth European Cup triumph was no fluke.