LONDON, Dec 29 (Reuters) - Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was left casting envious glances at his rivals' squads after a second defeat in four days bruised their title challenge and left him looking up the table rather than down.
The Merseysiders topped the Premier League on Christmas Day, but a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, on the back of losing to Manchester City by the same scoreline, has dumped them down to fifth.
They were far from outclassed and took the lead in both games but ultimately came unstuck and were without an inspirational game changer waiting in the wings to come off the bench.
"We couldn't have had two tougher games against two greater squads. Our squad is very thin at the moment," Rodgers told BBC Sport.
"Against Manchester City we were the best team and today, after taking the lead, we gave away a disappointing goal.
"The players have been outstanding. If one or two things had gone our way maybe the result would have been different. At the start of our season this squad was very thin anyway and we needed that bit of luck with nobody getting injured but up until four weeks ago that worked for us."
With captain Steven Gerrard and striker Daniel Sturridge already sidelined, they suffered further bad news on the injury front with defender Mamadou Sakho limping off clutching his hamstring and midfielder Joe Allen also forced off.
Liverpool have now played all of the current top four away from home and their next three fixtures are against teams 10th or below and a good run of results could yet propel them back into contention.
Yet their title credentials could be defined by their strength in reserve and a glance at their substitutes, in comparison to Chelsea's, would not have filled their fans with confidence.
After Allen was forced off, Rodgers threw 19-year-old Brad Smith into the fray for his first appearance, while the inclusion of 16-year-old Jordan Rossiter on the bench might have been a nudge to the club's owners to dust off the chequebook in January.
"We've shown when we've got everyone available we'll be a match for anyone. If we get that wee bit of luck and have people fit then there's no reason why we can't be challenging (for the title)," Rodgers added.
"It's such a tight league you can go from top to fifth. Nothing is won at the midway point. The most important thing for us is that we're in the conversation this year." (Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Rex Gowar)