Remember when everyone and their next door neighbour's ghost derided Liverpool's title run as being symptomatic of their lack of European competition? Remember when Liverpool fans responded with the fact that although the club may not have Europe, they had such a thin injury-ridden squad at times that it presented the same challenges as playing the ol' Wednesday/Sunday split? Remember how Brendan Rodgers has said on multiple occasions that he's looking to add to rather than subtract from the squad specifically because of this thinness?
Because today's alleged "bombshell" of a transfer story seems to forget all these very basic facts.
The Guardian is now reporting on a Tony Barrett story behind a paywall that alleges that Brendan Rodgers has put fifteen — FIFTEEN?! — senior team players on the chopping block in his attempt to craft a squad worthy of the Champions League. If your heart just skipped a beat, you're not alone; it's an incredibly troubling development from a man who has spent so much time and energy putting together one of the most collegial squads in England.
Barrett is legit as far as Liverpool goes, so it's concerning that he's reporting on this. He's listed a group of players that are on "red alert" and in danger of not being in the squad next year, but the actual list seems far less disturbing than the headlines and panic-inducing red alerts would have you believe. Make yourself a nice cup of tea, and we'll go through each player one by one as categorized by Barrett.
Iago Aspas — Aspas made only 14 appearances in the league this year, with nine of those appearances coming from the bench. He never seemed to translate his pre-season form into anything that impressed the manager when it mattered, and a goal against Shamrock Rovers probably won't change that. Aspas never quite seemed to work himself into Rodgers' plans, and he's long been pegged as a knocked on departure once the transfer window opens. No surprises here.
Luis Alberto — You'd never know it, but Luis Alberto actually made nine appearances from the bench in the league this year before being hurried into a witness protection programme somewhere in Spain, with only his girlfriend's Instagram documentation to serve as proof that he was still alive. Many were excited about Alberto when he first arrived, and many still hope he might have an opportunity next season, but if he doesn't find himself in red next year, few will be surprised.
Sebastian Coates — Coates struggled to make any sort of impact under both Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers, and injury setbacks plus the purchase of two additional centre backs last summer seemed to push him even further down the pecking order. We'll always have that goal against QPR, but Seba's demise has long been in progress.
Pepe Reina — Reina's departure has dragged on the entire time he's been on loan. It's clear that Simon Mignolet is Liverpool's number one keeper and the club can't support Reina's wages if he is to merely play the back-up role. Reina's been done for months now.
Oussama Assaidi — Although he had his "Who?" crown stolen by Luis Alberto, at least Assaidi had a chance to go out on loan and attempt to find another suitor. That suitor may be Stoke, but a player who hasn't been in Rodgers' plans for two seasons running was never one that was going to make an impact for the club next season.
Victor Moses — It became quickly evident that Moses' loan spell wasn't going to work out for the player, Liverpool, or Chelsea. After not figuring significantly in Rodgers' plans for this season, he was never going to figure significantly into next year's plans either, and the money one might spend to pry him away from Chelsea would be better put towards other causes.
Aly Cissokho — Cissokho is a player many wouldn't mind having around for some incredibly deep depth at left back, but it seems likely that with Jose Enrique presumably returning to fitness eventually, plus Jon Flanagan and Jack Robinson waiting in the wings, any additional players at this position would need to be knocked on starters of the expensive variety. Cissokho just doesn't fit this profile. Back to his home club he goes.
Kolo Touré — The entire point of Touré's signing was that he was depth at CB that came at a fine price: free. None of this has changed. There was never much expectation that Touré would be a Liverpool player for more than a year or two while the club's younger talent in this position continued to develop, and thus there's not much point in moving on a player who is likely to move on of his own accord next year anyway, especially when little can be recouped from his departure.
Suso — Suso had a bright loan spell at Almeria before getting into some sort of trouble that never reallly got clarified and maybe was nothing but maybe was something. Regardless, Rodgers kept in close contact with the player while he was away and Suso is a natural fit for what Rodgers is trying to accomplish. If the club are trying to keep spending down, Suso's return from loan is a pretty good bit of free transfer business.
Jack Robinson — Another player returning from a loan spell, another who got into a spot of trouble, although this time it was in the form of multiple red cards due to an apparent inability to control one's aggression. By all accounts Robinson had a successful season at Blackpool, and while he's still certainly far from taking on a starting role for Liverpool, he's certainly a decent depth option for a team that spent half the season with Jon Flanagan holding down the fort.
Martin Kelly — Martin Kelly makes Daniel Agger look like Wolverine, and this injury history combined with the fact that he still hasn't played for the senior squad at centre back despite making his senior debut several seasons ago already kind of makes this one a bit of a mercy killing. It's deeply unlikely Kelly is going to find his way into his preferred position from his Academy days, and while right back coverage is something sorely lacking on the team, Kelly seems like he's long past his make-it-or-break-it phase in his development.
Fabio Borini — Borini is fresh off an enormously successful season at Sunderland, where he played hero on more than a handful of occasions and was significant in securing the Black Cats' presence in the Premier League. He may not be a striker of Luis Suarez's or Daniel Sturridge's quality, but he's a good shout from the bench when you need a goal late in the game and a young player on low wages who can manage this is a decent depth player.
Conor Coady — Coady, like Adam Morgan before him, found his level in the lower divisions. There's a sentimental attachment to Coady as a local boy coming up through the ranks of his boyhood club, but with so many other quality youth players banging down the door of the first team, Coady's chance to make the jump to the senior team seems to have passed him by.
And here we get to the heart of the matter. This is the buried lede in an otherwise unsurprising list of player departures, and even these aren't all that surprising. In the list of Liverpool's remaining knocked starters, it's not hard to isolate these Lucas Leiva and Daniel Agger for transfer rumour purposes. Doesn't necessarily make them any more likely, but that hardly matters.
The rumours around these two are likely to persist all summer, so a defense of why they're both likely to stay won't be mounted at the moment, but suffice it to say all players are available at the right price. Even Luis Suarez. It may be a stupidly ridiculous price for a player like Suarez, but it would be the right price nonetheless. It's an inherently meaningless phrase, and doesn't do much to shed light on either player's status.
The bottom line is that save for Lucas and Agger, the bulk of this list is made up of players who already didn't factor much into Rodgers' plans in 2013/14 and, to be blunt, were often forgotten about in terms of discussion of depth or player sales. Figments of our imagination don't get registered with UEFA for Champions League.
Hearing that fifteen players could be leaving this summer is incredibly shocking, no doubt; but when it's unlikely that all fifteen will leave, and of those who will, many have been as good as gone for quite some time, it's hardly the panic-inducing situation it's presented as. Brendan Rodgers will continue to build on the squad he played with all year, and it's unlikely anyone who made regular appearances from that squad is going anywhere.