THE presence in the Premier League of two famous old names with five titles between them is, in many ways, a welcome reminder of a bygone age that existed before the summit of English football became the preserve of the big city clubs.
Back when Huddersfield Town and Burnley ruled the roost, the latter the most recent of the two albeit in 1960, good husbandry and a keen eye for recruitment could be enough to land the biggest prize of all in this country.
Times have changed hugely, of course. Last season, the top seven consisted of three clubs from London and two apiece from Manchester and Liverpool.
Few would bet against a repeat this time around, which makes the presence of both the Terriers and the Clarets among the elite a pleasing antidote to the ‘money rules’ ethos of the modern-day game.
What the first top-flight meeting in almost half-a-century between these two clubs also provided was a reminder of something else that football seems to have lost in recent years, namely, the art of defending.
Pep Guardiola, arguably the most feted coach of the past decade, admitted last season to a failure to coach his Manchester City side in how to tackle.
Scoring goals and taking the game to the opposition is all that interests the Spaniard and, in Premier League coaching circles, he is far from alone.
Jurgen Klopp, judging by Liverpool’s porous backline during his two years at the helm, certainly adheres to the belief that attack is the best form of defence.
The upshot has been plenty of goals flying in and a generation of former players shaking their heads in disbelief at what they are watching every week.
In that respect, the defenders’ union would have loved this tussle at Turf Moor as each team provided a master class in how to keep the other at bay.
It did not make for a classic in terms of entertainment. In fact, there was probably only one decent save of note by either goalkeeper in the entire 90 minutes.
But in an era when defending is seen almost as an afterthought, this Roses clash proved there are managers out there who can set up teams with the specific aim of not conceding. Many hours of work on the training ground went into Saturday’s impressive shut-out by Huddersfield, as left-back Chris Lowe made clear after helping the Yorkshire club to a fourth clean sheet in just six Premier League outings.
“The secret is everyone works hard defensively,” said the German, shedding some light on why Town’s defensive record is bettered by just the Manchester clubs. “It is true that we work hard on it in training. We always have a good defensive plan that starts with our striker; everyone works as hard as they can to defend.”
Such a simple approach is clearly working, as Town’s goals against column indicates.
If survival is to be achieved, this miserly mindset will be key – as a look at the record of the three teams relegated last season vividly illustrates with Hull City conceding a ridiculous 80 goals in 38 games.
The Tigers also managed just five clean sheets, a tally Sunderland matched en route to letting in 69. Town, of course, already have four to their name. A warning, though, comes via Middlesbrough going down despite keeping 11 clean sheets and conceding 53 times with Boro’s Achilles heel being found at the other end of the pitch.
A lack of ruthlessness in front of goal is the one concern for Town this term. Having scored three times on the opening day, the Terriers have found the net just twice in five games despite creating plenty of chances.
There maybe were not many opportunities against Burnley, but Laurent Depoitre really should have done better than shoot tamely at Nick Pope shortly after half-time.
Ince was unfortunate midway through the second half that his drilled shot flashed just wide, but questions have to be asked about Rajiv van La Parra’s thought process in the incident that left the winger with a yellow card and Burnley rightly incandescent at such a blatant dive.
Wagner merely said afterwards van La Parra had admitted his guilt. But, putting aside the crude nature of his attempted deception, what remains most mystifying is why the Dutchman went down at all when in such a great position. Getting to the by-line and drilling a low cross that had every chance of bringing a goal was surely the better option when the alternative was to incur such opprobrium.
Lowe, for his part, was quick to defend his team-mate from those accusations of cheating. “I couldn’t see from where I was,” added the left-back. “If there was no contact, it was a good decision by the referee. But he is not like that. He is a good character.”
Burnley: Pope; Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Ward; Arfield (Gudmundsson 76), Cork, Hendrick (Barnes 73), Defour, Brady; Wood. Unused substitutes: Vokes, Westwood, Long, Bardsley, Legzdins.
Huddersfield Town: Lossl; Smith, Jorgensen, Lowe; Mooy, Hogg (Billing 75); Kachunga (Hadergjonaj 87), Sabiri (Van La Parra 63), Ince; Depoitre. Unused substitutes: Green, Malone, Whitehead, Hefele.
Referee: C Kavanagh.