The Disneyfication of football

 

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A far from unexpected reversal at the hands of 5 times European champions Liverpool was still tinged with disappointment and regret following the taming of double European champions Manchester United just 7 days earlier.

It is not wrong for Town fans to hope that huge chasms can be bridged every week, and even when stark realities are confirmed, their support remains constant for a club which continues to strive to punch way above its weight and a management team on a steep learning curve.

Anfield, possibly the most anticipated away day of the season, provided perhaps the greatest disappointment. Like their great rivals down the East Lancs road, Liverpool is now a global club attracting bandwagon support in their millions and the impact is painful.

Gentrification appears complete with a staggering amount of fresh out of the bag scarfs and other merchandise adorning wide eyed, selfie taking occasional or first time visitors creating an insipid audience soaking up an atmosphere they simply can’t create.

Between a relatively stirring rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone and celebrating their first goal in the second half; nothing.

It should be said that the apparent high proportion of experience seekers was probably exacerbated by the attractiveness of the fixture. A likely win against the unlikely newcomers wasn’t going to over excite their regular support and the secondary market for tickets would have been more active than normal, but those images of a swaying Kop bristling with humour and vocal support are from a very different age.

Outside the ground, an urchin of around 7 was carrying a teddy bear in a shoebox and asking for a penny for the guy outside the Arkles pub – probably the most authentic sight of the day.

The travails of the home side in the Premier League of late made this a good time to play them. Shorn of two world class players in Mané and Coutinho and the artistry of Lallana, central defensive frailties and goalkeeping doubts suggested a more level playing field for the Terriers though this did ignore Liverpool’s home form which had only been disturbed by Burnley – the only side to score at Anfield so far.

Having subdued Manchester United with a deep defensive block, it was hardly surprising that David Wagner would adopt similar tactics against his friend’s team and replacing Kachunga with the more expansive Van La Parra offered the opportunity to counter with pace.

For much of the first half, the plan worked very well though the counter attacking fizzled out after the first, rather encouraging, 10 minutes and disappeared entirely once Van La Parra had to be withdrawn with injury. With Depoitre left as the only outlet and quality on the ball at a premium for the visitors, Liverpool took complete control.

Despite their overwhelming dominance of the ball, the home side lacked pace and creativity, allowing Town to cope easily with the wave of attacks mounted and restricting their more illustrious opponents to a couple of tame efforts on target. The normally excellent Mohamed Salah was subdued on the right, the Moreno/Milner axis on the left was mundane to say the least and Sturridge starved of service.

Admirable as the visitors’ discipline was, the first free kick of any note was only conceded late in the half (to dramatic effect), offensive threat was non existent. Depoitre won many aerial battles but all were pointless with no team mate far enough up the pitch to capitalise once Van La Parra had gone.

When Town finally conceded a free kick, Kachunga hacking Moreno down on the left, a potential turning point of the game ensued. A floated cross to the far post looked innocuous enough but Kevin Friend saw Tommy Smith tugging at Firmino’s shirt – an event which eluded everyone else in the ground – and pointed to the spot.

The largely disappointing Salah stepped up only to fire his shot too close to Lössl who beat the ball away. Henderson shot the rebound narrowly wide and Town had escaped.

Uninspiring when in possession and unthreatening on the rare occasion we crossed the halfway line, Town’s resilience and organisation was, at least, something to cling to, but the weight of Liverpool’s possession was bound to tell unless the visitors could improve their ability to retain the ball and somehow create problems. The complete absence of away goals since the demolition of Palace on opening day did not augur well.

With the game settling in to a familiar pattern early in the second half, perhaps the hope was to turn the crowd against them but this rather ignored the soporific support attracted to the game and our own offensive frailties.

As it was, the inevitable mistake arrived early when Smith inexplicably headed a nothing ball in to the path of Sturridge. As poor as the erstwhile England man had been, he could barely fail to score and lifted the ball over the exposed Lössl to finally animate Anfield.

Going behind to a soft goal, Town disintegrated rapidly as the Reds found their fluency. Unable to relieve pressure, the rearguard action became increasingly desperate and desperate out balls to the tiring Depoitre were never going to provide breathing space.

Zanka, who was excellent and clearly now finding his feet, had to intervene to prevent a second goal with a marvellous last ditch clearance for a corner only for the set piece to lead to a second and game ending goal for Liverpool. Firmino, who had been largely anonymous in the first half, escaped the attentions of Mooy (who had one of his least influential games for the Terriers) and stooped to extend the home side’s lead.

From that point, it was only a question of how many for the home team who rediscovered their confidence and exposed the (understandable) gap in class between the teams.

Wijnaldum provided the class to finally put Town to the sword as he worked an opening in the box despite the attention of half of the visiting team and slammed an unstoppable shot past Lössl in to the top corner to complete a routine victory.

Mounié was brought on to accompany Depoitre up front to no great effect while the performance of Hadergjonaj when he came on for Smith offered a little positive amidst the gloom. He defended well, attacked with pace and looked a very good back up for his captain and, possibly, a replacement.

The positives were massively outweighed however and the lack of adventure and goal threat on the road is becoming an urgent issue. While a result at Anfield was always unlikely, to barely trouble a vulnerable home defence was disheartening, brave as the first half defending had been.

Thankfully, a traditional English atmosphere will return at home to West Brom next week – results at the John Smiths Stadium will be the key to our survival or otherwise but it is to be hoped that the lacklustre away performances will be tackled by Wagner and maybe the return of Palmer after the international break will give us the opportunity to turn dogged defensiveness in to more expansive displays.

An afternoon to forget, though the Scandinavians can cling on to the memories for a long time to come.

 

 

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