The Champions League is coming to Anfield again.
That will never get old to say. Or hear. Or read. Or... well, you get the idea.
With the re-introduction of the top international club competition, though, comes a new kind of roster math that puts further restrictions on things than Liverpool fans have grown used to. England has tweaked their roster regulations over the past decade to get more in line with what UEFA's are, but there's still some additional rules to be accounted for.
The biggest thing that Liverpool will need to do is adhere to a new level of Home Grown Player regulations. In England, at least eight of the twenty-five players on your registered roster must be "Home Grown", or have been with a club in the country* for at least three years between the ages of 15-21. That's generally not hard to do, as any English player and a growing number of younger European internationals will qualify for that after playing in English academies as teenagers.
*Because the English leagues include Welsh teams, players trained at Welsh clubs also count for Home Grown requirements for both the English FA and UEFA*
UEFA has the same requirement, but they also go a level deeper and require that at least four of those Home Grown Players be "Club Trained", meaning that they were owned by your team for at least three years during that same time frame. Making things a little bit easier is that they don't have to be at the club for the entire three years as long as the club holds their registration (i.e. ownership rights) during that time, so they can get playing time away on loan and still earn time towards become Club Trained.
Some English clubs have struggled mightily with this requirement over the years. As Home Grown roster spots have to be left unfilled if no eligible player can be found, Manchester City has routinely had to register under-strength rosters by adding Academy players who won't see much if any playing time to the roster. Chelsea also had difficulty with this until overhauling their Academy system several years ago. Italian squads have also tended to have a hard time with this requirement, thanks to a national tendency to under-value the strength of their Academy system.
Thankfully for Liverpool, fielding a strong squad with these requirements shouldn't prove too difficult. Unlike their last stint in the Champions League, they have a very strong Academy system now (thanks Rafa Benitez!), and have several good young players to choose from to help fill out those spots once Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling have been registered. So with all this in mind, where does Liverpool's roster currently stand?
* denotes Home Grown, ^ denotes Club Trained
1. Simon Mignolet, GK
2. Pepe Reina, GK
3. Brad Jones, GK *
4. Daniel Agger, CB
5. Martin Skrtel, CB
6. Mahmadou Sakho, CB
7. Kolo Toure, CB
8. Martin Kelly, CB/RB ^
9. Glen Johnson, RB *
10. John Flanagan, RB/LB ^
11. Jose Enrique, LB
12. Jack Robinson, LB ^
13. Steven Gerrard, CM ^
14. Lucas Leiva, CM
15. Jordan Henderson, CM *
16. Joe Allen, CM *
17. Coutinho, AM
18. Suso, AM ^
19. Luis Alberto, AM
20. Oussama Assaidi, AM
21. Luis Suarez, FW
22. Daniel Sturridge, FW *
23. Fabio Borini, FW/AM *
24. Rickie Lambert, FW *
25. Iago Aspas, FW
Sterling and Andre Wisdom both count as Club Trained for UEFA roster purposes, and also qualify for the provision in the UEFA roster rules that allows under-21 players who have been with the club for at least 36 months to be registered to a "B" list that lets them be used in matches without being on the 25-man roster.
Other players who qualify for the B list who could be useful in varying capacities include Joao Teixera, Brad Smith, Ryan McLaughlin, and maybe even Conor Coady in a pinch. Jordon Ibe and Tiago Ilori are both U-21, but haven't been with the club long enough to qualify for the B list, so would have to be in the 25 man roster to play in the Champions League.
So as things stand, Liverpool have a pretty well-balanced roster at their disposal without making any moves at all. There's definitely a need for better depth and quality in some areas, but thanks to twelve Home Grown players, including five Club Trained (seven if you include Sterling and Wisdom), they have some flexibility to play with when it comes to loans and sales to create roster space.
With sales likely for Reina, Assaidi, Aspas, and possibly a few others, as well as loans possible for the likes of Suso, Robinson, and perhaps Kelly, that gives Liverpool a number of roster spots to play with. We know Emre Can is coming in to fill one of those (even if his deal isn't official yet), and several other deals are in the works. So assuming that Reina, Aspas, and Assaidi are sold and two of Suso, Robinson, and Kelly are loaned out, that's three roster spots open once Can's deal is finalized (it would be four, but Sterling or Wisdom would be added to the roster to get a fourth Club Trained player again).
There's a lot that Liverpool can do with those three roster spots. Given apparent needs and players we know they've tried to get so far, another attacking midfielder, a fullback, and a central midfielder would be the three most likely additions, with the roster shuffled around a bit to work in another goalkeeper as well.
To be in this good a position to add to a roster going in to the Champions League season is a wonderful thing, and should not be taken for granted. You can see from the existing roster that this is something Liverpool's management has been planning on and working towards for awhile now, and to see it coming together now is impressive. With a couple smart buys, this could be an impressive team indeed next season.