No one would accuse Rafael Benitez of being a gambler. Naturally cautious, his priority when he became manager of Liverpool was to make them difficult to beat, and even Europe's best can testify to that. The downside is that he is also squeezing the goals out of his own team.
It is now nine weeks since Liverpool got more than one in a Premiership match, and while it would be unfair to chant "boring, boring Liverpool", even their greatest advocates would be hard-pressed to elevate them to anything above efficient. Certainly the watching representatives of Benfica, who come to Anfield on Wednesday, will not be quaking in their boots on the evidence of this match.
Maybe the Champions' League second leg weighed too heavily on the Liverpool players, because they allowed a deeply unambitious Charlton Athletic to escape with a draw with relative ease. True, Thomas Myhre was the man of the match, but that was due as much to the inefficiencies of the players in front of him as to any pyrotechnics from the visiting goalkeeper. Benitez's consolation will be that the point gained last night pushed his side into second place, but he will still regard this as an opportunity missed.
These teams met at The Valley only four weeks ago, and while familiarity did not breed contempt, it did spawn an under-standing of each other's strengths; the opening had their respective managers' fingerprints all over it, and the result was a near-stalemate.
For Charlton this fitted more neatly into their gameplan, because their massed ranks were designed to act as breakers for Liverpool's attacks in the hope that counterattacks could be launched from the wreckage. This was an optimistic hope, because the visitors did not manage a shot at the Liverpool goal in the first 45 minutes. That is a shot of any description.
Liverpool were not much better, but they at least contrived chances. Harry Kewell shot across the goal from the left edge of the area after nine minutes and his header forced a save out of Myhre just after the half-hour. The Charlton goalkeeper also had to react sharply to save from one of his own players, Hermann Hreidarsson.
The former Everton player came to the fore just before the interval, however, when he made diving saves to deny Djibril Cissé's header after 43 minutes and shot on the turn a minute later. Those opportunities ought to have been the clarion call for the home side, but instead of mounting the charge, Liverpool became more cautious in the second half until the imminence of the final whistle gave them belated urgency.
Kewell added to his collection of near-misses with a volley that whistled by the post after 59 minutes, but Peter Crouch should have done much better from Cissé's cross moments later. The 6ft 7in striker stooped to conquer but his header was far too feeble to trouble Myhre.
Indeed, the closest Liverpool came to breaking the deadlock was just before the match went into stoppage time. Xabi Alonso, brought on to provide craft, fired low into the Charlton area, but the effort proved more of a pass than a shot and Robbie Fowler gave hints of his glorious past with a half-volley into the net. Unfortunately for the striker, the linesman had already ruled Cissé offside.Reuse content