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Downgraded Liverpool Cannot Aspire to Champions League Football

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With the new season creeping ever closer, most of the rumoured Liverpool action on the transfer market continues to concern who is likely to leave the club, with the latest name added to the list that of Daniel Agger. He's joined by Craig Bellamy, as with the Olympics now over for Stuart Pearce's Team GB, speculation that a deal to send the attacker home to Cardiff is all but done is once again heating up. In the past it might have been easy to shrug off such talk as baseless speculation—or to imagine all the world-class talent the club could bring in to replace a departing first team player—but after a number of summers that have seen Liverpool's squad steadily downgraded it has become increasingly difficult not to assume the worst.

Now, rather than laughing at the idea that the club's most effective players might be on their way out, for many there is a creeping dread that it is only a matter of time before the deals are struck. Now, rather than imagining Liverpool might bring in an exciting name to replace a departing star whose head has been turned by a continental power, fans are left to fear that a player like Daniel Agger could head to nearby Manchester City while the most frequently mentioned replacement for Denmark's captain is Swansea's Ashley Williams.

Even if the club intends to hold on to Bellamy and Agger, though, sales are clearly the theme of the window to date for Liverpool, and on that front it is only through the player's stubbornness that Andy Carroll remains at the club today. For all the talk of how it would be nice if Carroll got the chance to prove himself, and as much as many fans have taken to him as to a lost puppy, that every sign coming from the club suggests Brendan Rodgers must trim the wage bill and sell before he buys makes his continued presence less clearly positive when the £17-20M and £80k per week that would be freed up by his departure might better be put towards somebody the manager does want to have around.

Of course, there may rightly be questions why, even if sales have to come before purchases and the wage bill needs trimming, at this stage it continues to seem nothing but a revolving door out of Anfield with nothing much coming in the other direction. After all, so far this summer the club has seen the departures of Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez, Fabio Aurelio, and Alberto Aquilani—all players on sizeable contracts, even if not all have played important roles for the club in recent seasons. This follows the departure of Raul Miereles on the the final day of last summer's transfer window for £12.5M with suggestions that as there was no time to spend the money received for him at the time, the club would use it to strengthen the squad in the future.

Either that fee—and the roughly £30-40k a week Meireles was reported to be on—has now fully paid for Fabio Borini's future at the club and nothing has been spent this summer, or despite suggestions otherwise it was used to help balance last summer's earlier transfers, which along with the nearly £60M received for Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel earlier in the year would have put that term's net transfer outlay on par with what the club had to work with while David Moores still owned it. Neither option shows an exceptional amount of ambition on the part of the owners to return Liverpool to the top four, and while nobody would expect them to pour money into the club at a rate anything like the billionaires in place at Manchester City or Chelsea do, it does make it more difficult to watch the continuing drip of departures while listening to talk of a need to cut the wage bill further.

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Perhaps there are big signings on the horizon. Perhaps rumours that the departures of Bellamy and Agger are growing ever more likely are entirely baseless. Perhaps. Today, though, twenty months into the ownership of Fenway Sports Group, it is impossible to arguable that the club doesn't have a weaker playing staff than when they arrived, and that despite a few signings with large individual price tags the net spend has not significantly changed following on from the club's past two sets of owners and with the wage bill hacked away at significantly.

Rodgers can talk of wanting his squad in place by the end of August, and the owners can talk about targeting the top four and returning the club to glory—and the coming weeks may yet show a determination to do so. But just as with continuing suggestions by the ownership that there will be movement on the stadium question, talk is easy. And so far, the only reasons to feel especially optimistic about Liverpool's prospects moving forward are in the talk. Actually looking at the trajectory of Liverpool's squad, and comparing its strength to even what it was twenty months ago, is almost wholly discouraging.

Most discouraging of all is that with just under two weeks until the Premier League kicks off, this summer there are as yet no grounds for realistic expectation that the club will find itself in a Champions League spot come the end of the season.