Melissa Rudd: Now’s the time to learns the lessons of Anfield
PUBLISHED: 15:43 14 August 2019 | UPDATED: 15:43 14 August 2019
In many ways, Friday night’s defeat at Anfield reinforced everything we know about this Norwich City side and the Premier League.
There was never any doubt that Daniel Farke would stick to the attacking philosophy that proved so successful last season. He knows he doesn't have the personnel to play conservatively with the emphasis on defence rather than attack. City may have won the Championship, but a quick scan of the league table shows there were seven teams who had tighter defences. That's not how Norwich won promotion and it won't be how they avoid relegation.
Whether or not the players would be up to the task of delivering the same style of football on the toughest stage against some of the best players in the world was something we couldn't be sure of. Friday may have ended in a 4-1 defeat, but it allowed us to confidently tick that box.
City went at the European champions with the same verve as they employed against the majority of second tier clubs last season, but the brutal reality of life in the top tier took less than a quarter of an hour to register.
Grant Hanley's clumsy, skewed attempted clearance was an unfortunate error and perhaps an unsurprising one given he has barely 20 minutes of competitive football under his belt since the turn of the year. But while his eagerness to clear the danger in the six-yard box against one of the greatest teams in the world was understandable, it was the captain's reaction to his horror that was particularly disappointing.
Hanley has earned the reputation as a leader on the pitch and in the dressing room, but as Jamie Carragher pointed out in his television punditry role, he didn't send a great message to the young defenders beside him by sinking on to his haunches, burying his head in his hands and clearly wallowing in his misery in the minutes following the own goal.
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The fact that Norwich were forced to start their Premier League campaign with a centre-half whose last start came in an FA Cup defeat to Portsmouth in January (where he was sent off after 15 minutes) was hardly ideal. Farke, though, had little choice with both Timm Klose and Christoph Zimmerman injured. Perhaps signing a reinforcement in that position should have been a priority in the transfer window.
Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis epitomised Norwich's first half, attacking with gusto, but looking defensively naive as Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mo Salah exploited the huge gaps on City's left-hand side to make it 2-0, with Virgil van Dijk and Divock Origi adding further damage.
Of course, Norwich will have to defend better if they are to avoid getting hammered at the hands of the league's better teams, but Liverpool scored four goals or more on eight occasions at home last season. City could have put 10 men behind the ball and still conceded the same number at Anfield, such is the calibre of their hosts.
But there were positives. Todd Cantwell twisting and turning his way out of trouble and finding the right pass in midfield. Marco Stiepermann's perfectly-timed runs into the box that, on another day, could have seen him score twice in the first half. Best of all, there was Teemu Pukki's pinpoint no-look finish into the far corner that left City fans wounded but proud come full-time.
Norwich had a total of 12 shots on Friday when the Reds conceded an average of less than seven shots per game at Anfield last season. Statistics like that allow supporters to feel much more confident about how City will fare against the teams in this league they will have to beat to survive; against defences that are far more penetrable.
That fearless attacking approach may have played into Liverpool's hands at times, but Farke proved at half-time that his team is able to adapt when needed. It may have been too late when four goals down, but it was a much-needed lesson in getting that delicate balance right. It could prove invaluable this season, assuming City learn from it.
Saturday's fixture against Newcastle at Carrow Road is the perfect opportunity for Farke and his team to reap the benefits of that education.