First away win of 2010 is ideal cure for travel sickness

AFTER the famine came the feast. Having become the side that everyone loves to talk about, how refreshing it was to see Liverpool silence the chatter in style.

During a ruinous start to 2010, the Reds have done little to help themselves by running up a run of results on their travels that have continually torpedoed ambitions, leaving themselves easy targets for harbingers of doom.

Following Liverpool on the road has been an unrewarding pursuit and those who were stymied by volcanic ash probably had more fun being sat in airport lounges than the Reds who have traipsed up and down the country in the hope of seeing their team win.

Fortunately, good things come to those who wait and that maxim proved precise once again yesterday, as Rafa Benitez’s side scored more times in 90 minutes than they had done in the previous four months away from Anfield.

Had Liverpool not taken advantage of this opening, it would, without doubt, have been a low to rank alongside the ruinous night when the Clarets knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup at rain-sodden Turf Moor in January 2005.

With Steven Gerrard in such rampaging form, nevertheless, the prospect of another calamity was eventually averted; leading by example and driving his team forward, his were the actions of man who simply felt enough was enough.

He, more than anyone else, has been vexed by the way the seams have fallen from this season and scrapping for a place in the top six was not the scenario Gerrard envisaged unfolding 12 months ago after Liverpool had finished runners-up in the title race.

It is a source of deep, personal frustration that another campaign will pass without him getting his hands on the medal he craves most of all and, on occasions, that has been evident in his body language.

Inevitably, that has led to whispers about how he is not committed, how he craves a new challenge elsewhere, why he doesn’t want to play for Benitez and, more recently, some scurrilous rumours that should not even have been given the time of day.

Here, though, a midfield master class ensured all post-match chatter was about his ability; when Gerrard is in this kind of mood, he is a joy to behold and he delivered a performance of the highest calibre.

That it was crowned by two goals in a comfortable 4-0 victory – one being a strike that was worth the entry fee alone – augurs well for the challenges Liverpool face in the next seven days; he, after all, is programmed to come good when it matters most.

“The second goal was the kind Stevie can score – a fantastic strike,” Benitez noted.

“He has quality, accuracy and power. I am really pleased for him and it’s very good news for us. He’s scored a lot of goals in the past and hopefully it can be the same on Thursday.”

Atletico Madrid, clearly, will offer a threat light years beyond the one Burnley provided yesterday but it can only have provided a source of encouragement that his squad were so ruthlessly efficient when chances eventually came their way.

Yet the aspect which will still infuriate is that if Liverpool had been anywhere near competent away from home, they would, in all probability, have had fourth place sewn up by now – they might even have been in a position to fight for the title.

Much has been made about Liverpool’s ills this year and rightly so, as the standard of football has, on several occasions, left observers feeling cold and it is a huge disappointment that they will fall short of last year’s tally of 86 in the region of 20 points.

To concentrate just on the Reds is to miss a certain point; cast a glance at the bottom half of the table and not one of the clubs in that group would have looked out of place in the relegation spots; the quality of the Premier League this year has been desperate.

But it is against such teams that Liverpool have struggled on the road, toiling to make an impact at grounds that the title challengers and Champions League wannabes have had little trouble improving their goal differences.

From Birmingham City down, going into this tussle Liverpool had only managed to beat two teams – West Ham United and Bolton Wanderers at the start of the campaign – and lost at places such as the DW Stadium, Fratton Park and Craven Cottage.

Since Fernando Torres pounced in the last minute at Aston Villa on December 29, they have played seven times away from Anfield but only three goals have been scored and three points from a possible 21 have been taken; they are damning statistics.

Mind you, scratch a little deeper and you will it gets worse; factor in the games at Blackburn Rovers and Portsmouth and it makes for even more depressing reading; just take solace from the fact that the campaign will soon be over.

At least it has the potential to end with some silverware and, perhaps, the remaining matches can be used as a worthwhile exercise for Benitez to see who can be trusted to remain in the squad and play a role during 2010/2011.

Maxi Rodriguez, for one, will certainly be a key figure next year; he thrilled his growing fan-base with another superb display of his passing, his sumptuous ball ultimately leading to Gerrard’s thunderbolt and it was so pleasing to see him get a goal.

That it was provided by a outstanding ball from Alberto Aquilani satisfied just as much; doubts remain over the Italian’s worth and his first 45 minutes were instantly forgettable but after the break he was outstanding.

There will be a role for him to fill against Atletico, as there will Ryan Babel, who completed the scoring when he fired past a weary Brian Jensen deep into injury time after an incisive ball from Lucas.

In many ways, however, the day belonged to Gerrard announcing he and his team intend to finish with a bang. And who knows? The best away day of all may still be to come.

BURNLEY (4-4-2): Jensen: Mears, Duff, Cort, Fox: Elliott, Cork, Alexander (Blake 63), Paterson (Eagles 71): Nugent (Thompson 77), Fletcher. SUBS: Weaver (GK), Caldwell, Bikey, Rodriguez, Thompson. BOOKINGS: Cork (29), Duff (78)

LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Reina: Johnson, Carragher, Ayala, Agger (Lucas 77): Mascherano, Gerrard (Pacheco 83): Rodriguez, Aquilani, Babel: Kuyt (Benayoun 48). SUBS: Cavalieri (GK), Kyrgiakos, Lucas, Degen, El Zhar.

GOALS: Gerrard (52, 59) Rodriguez (74), Babel (90 +4). BOOKINGS: Gerrard (44).


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