Anfield Down Under

Anfield Down Under: Sydney FC vs Liverpool From Row 89

Sydney played as though they were still stuck in a hangover, while Liverpool, despite scoring some relatively eye-catching goals, looked like they left their heads on the plane they disembarked the morning of the game, with a Thailand stopover to boot.

by James Pavey
26 May 2017, 4:13am

"Steve Gerrard, Gerrard, he'll pass the ball forty yards, he's big and he's fookin' hard, Steve Gerrard, Gerrard."

This was crooned to the tune of 'Que Sera, Sera' by a gaggle of burly football fans, who had a beer in one hand and supporters scarf in the other, as they prepared to watch their hero waltz around on the ANZ Stadium turf. This was no Anfield, but this was indeed Liverpool, and this was a big chance to showcase some of football's finest on Australian shores.

The concrete jungle of Sydney's ANZ Stadium, was the venue for the post-season friendly between English giants Liverpool and A-League champions Sydney FC. The pitch was a kaleidoscope of greens and browns as the grass struggled to recover from the Bulldogs-Roosters NRL game that decimated the field just days earlier, but that didn't seem to mind either team, especially Liverpool, who were prepared to use the match as a way to wind down after a patchy 2016-17 campaign.

Football friendlies are funny things. What they lack in incentive is usually made up for with entertainment. Liverpool's player wages total to nearly AU$300m, which is more than 100 times larger than Sydney FC's enforced AU$2.90m salary cap. Therefore, when you think Liverpool, you think quality, and fans should have been chomping at the bit to catch some big-name football.

With ANZ Stadium's 83,500 capacity, Sydney's 72,892-strong crowd was still a great turnout, especially considering that the match was only announced to the public just over a month ago. However, after 95,446 fans crammed into the MCG nearly four years ago to watch the Reds take on Melbourne Victory, the Sydney match felt like a missed opportunity. Nonetheless, as the famous anthem 'You'll Never Walk Alone' brought the otherwise lifeless ANZ Stadium to life, this still felt like a Liverpool match.

Daniel Sturridge stunned Sydney early on by putting Liverpool in front with a clinical finish, before Alberto Moreno scored a peach after latching onto a Roberto Firmino lob. Firmino then made it three just minutes before the interval, and as the A-League champions continued to chase their tails, the crowd became restless.

By the time fans returned to their seats after half-time, Gerrard was quickly subbed off, and a frustrated groan cycled around the stadium. There is so much respect for Gerrard, however, it was a strange occasion for Gerrard to don his cherished number 8 jersey for Liverpool, probably for the final time, two years to the day after his final Premier League appearance for the Reds. Regardless, it was a satisfying and pleasing sight for Australian football fans to see a true legend of the game again set foot on Australian soil.

From there the game spiralled into a cocktail of boredom and frustration. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and Sydney's Graham Arnold rung the changes nearly every five minutes, disrupting the flow of the game. By now, a Liverpool-mad 10-year-old kid sitting in front had slumped lower into his chair. The second half dragged on, and on, and on, many fans wishing, waiting and hoping for a moment of madness and outrageous skill. However, as Klopp and Arnold continued to make substitutions, bringing second-string players on the warm up their legs, the wish for some thrilling football melted into a broth of monotony and disappointment.

The goalless second-half had the match end as a 3-0 win to Liverpool. Fans got what they came for - goals, chants, and paper planes - but the lingering undertone remained. Sydney, after their monstrous 2016-17 season, deserved a holiday straight after their grand final win. They delayed their Ibiza trips, showed up and gave Liverpool something to think about, especially Socceroo hopeful Rhyan Grant, stalwart journeyman David Carney and youngster George Blackwood, who gave their side some bite.

Sydney enjoyed several prolonged periods on the ball in the midfield, and were confident enough in defence to make a show of it, Grant especially, who nullified a near-certain Gerrard goal before half-time.

After the match, walking with fans towards the train station, it was hard to understand whether this really was football. It was by no means an advertisement for Australian football, especially Sydney, who had broken a million records in their stunning season that only ended two weeks earlier. In these one-off marquee games, no one ever expects the Aussie team to win, but poor Sydney, despite their wonderful form, were getting booed in their own city. Well, to be fair, ANZ Stadium is in Homebush, which is deep in Western Sydney Wanderers territory.

Through it all, the match just didn't feel like a suitable way to end the season for both clubs. Sydney played as though they were still stuck in a hangover, while Liverpool, despite scoring some relatively eye-catching goals, looked like they left their heads on the plane they disembarked the morning of the game, with a Thailand stopover to boot. Barely a smile in sight, the players looked like they didn't really want to be there, and it didn't take long for that feeling to spread among the crowds in attendance.

Afterwards, cramming onto a city rail train that was bound for Sydney's Central station, a pair of travelled scousers summed it up as they kept repeating themselves, wiping bubbles of spit off their lips; "Fookin' shite." Over to you, Arsenal.