by Anthony Jones at talklfc
Benitez, tongue firmly in cheek described this performance as the best away performance in the past 40 year history of the club. He further remarked that he had not yet watched all the videos of our past away performances. It was a sharp and witty response, aimed at those who had been so critical of Liverpool's previous league performance at Southampton.
Jokes aside though, Benitez will be well aware that this performance was far improved compared to those against Manchester United, Burnley and Southampton. This victory went a large way to reviving Liverpool's Champions League hopes after they had taken a severe beating the week before. The chase for fourth spot continues with Everton; keeping their nose just ahead of the Reds. It was a big night in the Champions League race, with Liverpool and Charlton facing each other, Spurs and Bolton tangling elsewhere, whilst Boro also attempted to stay in the chasing pack.
Liverpool started like men possessed. Carragher again started at centre half where he has so impressed this season. It might just be coincidence that Liverpool's tepid displays in the previous week all shared one common factor, the removal of Carragher from the heart of the side. The other three in the back four were Traore, Finnan and Hyypia. In midfield Biscan came in to replace the suspended Hamann to partner Gerrard with Riise and Garcia continuing on the flanks. Baros and Morientes were again looking to forge a partnership which has the potential to cause trouble to the best of defences.
Liverpool started brightly and were close to taking an early lead. Luis Garcia found himself in space to the right of the Charlton goal and his shot was blocked by Kiely. The rebound fell to Gerrard who struck the ball with tremendous venom but a little too much height. The shot arrowed towards the cross bar and back out. It wasn't long though until Charlton started to peg Liverpool back.
Fate plays a massive part in football and it shouldn't have been a shock that Danny Murphy would play a part in the opening goal. Having picked up the ball on the edge of the box, he ghosted past Hyypia and his cross was cleared for a corner. Murphy responded by whipping in a cross with great pace and accuracy, as if to remind Liverpool of what they're missing in terms of set piece delivery. Hyypia moved to cover a runner at the near post, Traore hesitated at the far post and into the space the two had left, Bartlett headed home.
The goal knocked Liverpool out of their early stride, with Charlton's five man midfield having the desired affect. Liverpool's attacking play became confined with insufficient width to break down the opposition. Benitez had work to do. A chance came to Morientes before the break, with Baros playing Gerrard in down the left. The Liverpool captain drilled a low cross into the six yard area where Morientes rushed in. However Kiely was alert and blocked the Spaniard's effort. Kiely was proving a tough obstacle to navigate around.
It is one of the improved facets to this Liverpool side that a goal conceded does not end the match as a competition, as had become the case last season. Instead being a goal down appears to inspire this side to fight back and obtain something from the match. This was the case as Liverpool started the second half full of intent. Benitez asked his players to add more width to the play and they responded. Garcia was suddenly far more effective linking midfield with attack whilst Riise constantly found space on the left. At the heart of it all, of course, was Gerrard, driving the Reds on.
In training teams often practice defence against attack, and this match started to resemble one of those sessions. Despite looking to increase his attacking options, Curbishley was unable to organise his side to wrestle control from Liverpool. Benitez's best away performance in 40 years was clearly an exaggeration, but it shouldn't detract from the way Liverpool pressed forward relentlessly. The goal surely had to come.
Kiely was being tested on a regular basis now. Gerrard struck from distance, the ball taking a deflection on the way through which forced the Charlton stopper to tip the shot over the cross bar. Other half chances appeared and were wasted. As the travelling fans sang louder both inspiring and inspired by the players they came to follow the only fear was whether Charlton would hang on.
The concern quickly disappeared. Hughes having won possession underhit a pass back and Baros, like a dog chasing a car, was quick to tackle back and win the ball. Baros in such instances is like Rush or Fowler at their prime, the first line of defence, never allowing defenders to settle. The ball broke to Morientes who, in a blur of quality, moved the ball from right to left, confusing defender and opening up the chance to shoot. From the edge of the box his left footed strike arrowed into the top corner. Kiely, even in the excellent form he was in, was unable to get near it.
It seemed inevitable that Liverpool would march onto victory. Yet it was nearly thrown away. Charlton, so rarely a feature of the second half suddenly had a chance. A cross-shot from the left caught Dudek unprepared. His parry was not wide and away from danger as keepers are taught, but instead it was pushed forward to the edge of the six yard box. He was grateful for the long legs of Traore, who slid in to clear moments before his opponent could reach the ball. It was a warning that despite the obvious dominance, Liverpool needed to stay switched on.
Gerrard and Garcia continued to prompt. A chance came to Riise, inside the box, left of goal, his fearsome strike forced an incredible save from Kiely who was pleased to see the ball hit the crossbar and fly out to safety. Kiely could do little to stop the same man winning the game though. Garcia benefited from a lucky bounce that gave him possession just outside the box. Like Morientes he moved the ball from right to left, but the chance to shoot did not present itself. However, the speed of the attack had left Charlton exposed, with Riise unmarked in the same inside left position. Garcia played the winger in, who calmly slotted the ball to the side of Kiely and inside the near post.
With other results going Liverpool's way, it was a morale boosting victory for the Reds. The march for the Champions League spot and a rosier future continues....
© Anthony Jones 2005
Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez: "I'm delighted with the team, with the result and how we played. And I think it was perhaps the best performance of the team away for the last 40 years. A fantastic game."
"When you see the first half we had two or three clear cut chances. We conceded a goal but in the dressing room the players were saying, 'We can do it, we can do it'. All of them remember the game against Fulham, where we scored four goals in the second half."
"We had a lot of confidence, started the second half with a high tempo - this is the spirit we want and that means we are going in the right way. When you have good players, you always know you will get chances, but when you see the ball coming off the crossbar two times, you know you have to do more. At the end, we have done that and so I am delighted with the team."
"Fernando played very well but with 10 players around him playing well, it is easy for him. The goal was very important for him. We had talked before that he was playing very well between the lines, winning balls in the air. But as a top striker you need to score goals and for him it is fantastic. I do not have a crystal ball to say what will be in the future. We want to win the next game, and then after we will see."
Charlton manager Alan Curbishley: "I did not think we looked too sharp. But that might have been more to do with the way Liverpool played. It was a big game, and so we are disappointed we did not perform. We ran out of legs, I think. We felt at half-time they were going to come out and force the issue to win the game, and that is exactly what they did."
"I have got no complaints about the result, but am disappointed that with 10 minutes to go, we could not hold out. But on that performance they looked a class outfit, which is what we expect. They came into tonight's game knowing they had to win it, and I think it showed. We did have a hard game on Saturday, and this has happened a couple of times to us now. I think Liverpool all looked sharp and we couldn't really make much impression in the second half, and that was out downfall in the end."
Liverpool goalscorer John Arne Riise: "That's definitely the best we've played away from home. We played so well as a team, worked hard for each other and, for me, it was great to get the winner to help us to three important points because Charlton have been in great form. Normally when we go a goal down we start playing long balls and panic. This time we stayed patient and played our football. We felt a goal would come."
"We had a lot of chances and only the saves from the goalkeeper stopped us. When we equalised we knew we'd win. If it had been a scrappy game, maybe we'd have thought a point was enough, but the way we were playing we felt we had to go on to win the game, which is what's happened. We've had a few bad results recently and we knew going to Charlton wouldn't be easy. We also knew how important it was to get a win."
"We played really well and couldn't believe we were 1-0 down at half-time. We came out even more determined in the second half and for the first 15 minutes they couldn't get out of their half. Once we got the first goal we knew the result was in our hands and the second goal would come. This is a massive win for us, especially with Spurs and Middlesbrough losing."
Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek: "We are very happy with the win at Charlton and everyone was pleased for Fernando to score his first goal and it gives him a lot of confidence now. It was a fantastic goal and Fernando did a very good job for us. It was a goal that was impossible to stop, a magnificent goal."
"We needed that win very much because Charlton were on the same number of points as us and it was a massive win. You saw the character of the team as when you are losing 1-0 it is always difficult and we tried to get back into it as quick as we could. I thought we played well and even in the first half we had some chances which we were unlucky not to score. Every game is a vital one for us now and we have to make sure we go on a run and take the fourth place. That is so important."