Anfield nightmare confirms depth issues

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Roberto Martinez has a way with words. When he talks, people sit up and listen -- the man could sell sand in the desert given enough time. Nevertheless, one subject is beginning to look rather more like a sound bite than a statement of fact: the depth of the squad.

Before Tuesday night's crosstown visit, Martinez attempted to ease fears about how he would plug the ever-increasing gaps in his first team. Such protestations fell on deaf ears in this Anfield nightmare, however, as Liverpool brutally exposed the yawning lack of depth within the royal blue ranks.

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The starting line-up comprised of several rushed back from injury, while the absence of a genuine centre-forward on the bench spoke volumes. The sight of the recently recalled Luke Garbutt going straight into the match-day squad only served to confirm doubts over squad size.

The West Brom draw hinted at concerns regarding the squad, the injury to Bryan Oviedo in the FA Cup compounded them, and this defeat turned them into an unavoidable reality. On current evidence, the Blues simply cannot afford to end this window with Lacina Traore as their final addition.

Lacking viable alternatives, Martinez had little choice but to risk a number of the walking wounded. Phil Jagielka started despite a nagging hamstring; Antolin Alcaraz looked miles off the pace alongside him. The duo were no match for a rampant Liverpool and their much vaunted pairing of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

And the pair went onto play starring roles in this defensive horror show. There was a comedic attempt at an offside trap for the third, especially from Alcaraz, before Suarez caught Jagielka in possession and galloped away from both for the fourth.

The longer the game went on, the more telling the absence of Sylvain Distin and Seamus Coleman became. If the opening goal highlighted the chaos generated when every outfield player retreats to defend a set piece, the second showed the importance of the recovery pace offered by the pair, with John Stones caught out of position.

Prostrate on the floor as Steven Gerrard wheeled away in delight after breaching the floodgates, the loss of Romelu Lukaku in the aftermath merely added injury to the opening insult. Behind Lukaku, it was a minor miracle that Ross Barkley made the starting eleven, fracturing his toe barely three weeks ago. Credit to the youngster, though, he battled gamely and was one of the few to offer anything remotely like a performance.

The other to return from the treatment room was Steven Pienaar, and the midfielder endured a half to forget prior to his withdrawal at the interval. Pienaar remains a vital part of the side, although there is a trend for wearing his lack of match sharpness like a jumper -- his worst outings often coincide with a swift return from injury.

Elsewhere, Kevin Mirallas continued his recent resurgence and did not deserve to be part of this thrashing. There was a newfound maturity and responsibility about his display here. The sight of those around him crumbling seemed to drive Mirallas on. Shorn of centre forwards, with Lukaku leaving in a cast, this upturn in attitude and form is a godsend.

Once Gerrard headed beyond Tim Howard and wiped away the optimism generated by a confident start, this swiftly descended into carnage -- a wretched Sturridge penalty spared the additional humiliation of a fifth. Welcoming Aston Villa on Saturday, attention now turns to Martinez and his players, and their efforts in bouncing back from this crushing setback, with the squad crying out for new recruits in the meantime.


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