Second teams show Liverpool FC's major weakness
IN A fashion so timely you'd think I planned it, Rafa Benitez turned out Liverpool FC's second team - or a version of it - at Leeds United in the Carling Cup.
As I write this, I don't know what that team was, but I had already chosen a second team of my own, as part of an experiment.
Because we always hear that Liverpool's squad isn't strong enough - that as good as the first 11 is, the second 11 will let the Reds down.
With that as my starting point, I selected a second team for Liverpool (4-4-2) and then the rest of the top four teams, to see how they stacked up.
Those second teams will include players with first team experience, but they would not be selected if everyone was fit.
Here's Liverpool's line up:
unchallenged as number one)
Derby Kyriakos Agger Insua
El Zhar Lucas Spearing Riera
So, how did they stack up against their rivals?
For the keepers, Man United are top with Ben Foster, whereas Hilario at Chelsea and Fabianski at Arsenal are no better or worse than our man.
In defence, Chelsea have Baletti, Alex, Ivanovic and Zhirkov (internationals all and probably the strongest), United's is Rafael, Evans, Brown and Fabio (good, but still learning, apart from beanhead), while Arsenal have Armand Traore, Djourou, Silvestre and Gibbs (young talent, but still developing, while Silvestre is error prone).
In midfield, Man United lead the way I feel with Park, Anderson, Hargreaves and Nani (although Giggs and Scholes could come in as they only play occasionally) - that is strong across the park.
Chelsea have Kalou, Mikel, Joe Cole and Malouda (rock solid and proven in the Prem and internationally), while Arsenal - continuing a theme - are packed with young stars, with Ramsey, Jack Wilshire, Denilson and Thomas Roszicky.
Finally up front, where I put Chelsea ahead, even though a lack of strikers beyond Anelka and Drogba mean Deco plays with Sturridge. United have Michael Owen alongside Danny Welbeck (Owen on his own basically), and Arsenal have Theo Walcott and Carlos Vela (young and talented).
Looking at the players as a whole, it seems that Manchester United have the strongest squad overall, followed closely by Chelsea. They have proven players throughout, many of whom would add to our squad's depth and get into the first team.
Arsenal, as Wenger never tires of telling us, have the most exciting players - the amount of young talent there is frightening. Again, players like Wilshire, Walcott and Ramsey would be welcomed at Anfield with open arms.
Liverpool fall somewhere in between. The likes of Agger, Insua, Lucas and Babel have all performed in the Premiership and stack up alongside anyone. They would also be the players who would comfortably add to our rivals' squads.
However the younger players in the second 11 are - I'm sad to say - nowhere near as good as those elsewhere and that is where our squad falls down.
Never mind compared to our rivals, compared to the first team there is not the strength in depth I am sure Rafa Benitez would like.
The money is not there to bring anyone in, and given the chances of one of our young players breaking into the first team and getting an opportunity to prove themselves - or of the Academy turing out a gem, a teenage star is not shining yet.
So what's the answer? Prayer - in the short term at least, prayer that Torres and Gerrard don't get injured.
Beyond that, with the purse strings held tightly by owners who seem to be building up their cash reserves for a shot at super-villainy, all our hopes are with the new-look Academy.
Will it deliver? Only time will tell, but our policy to date seems to be to ship the majority of our young players off on loan and then sell them for a few million to help balance the books.
To me, I'd rather players like Nemeth got game time ahead of Voronin instead of on loan, to give them a chance to show their stuff and - who knows - maybe blossom into something special.
What do you think? And do you agree with my teams?