He moved from North-East to North-West on deadline day, part of an amazing carousel of big bucks and big names moving between Premier League football clubs on the last day of the window.
Newcastle fans were distraught, this was ‘their boy’ abandoning the dream that they wanted to share with him, and live through him. The more broad-minded of Geordies accepted that this was a good move for the player, Liverpool may not be the power-house of English and European football that they were in the 70s and 80s, but they were a recognised member of “The Big four” group of clubs. Regularly competing in the Champions League – even winning it five years previously. And it was certainly a good move for the club. £35 million pounds for a player who was still proving himself in the top division, and in fact had not managed 20 goals in the Championship during their promotion year. Begrudgingly, some wished him well. The home-grown successor to the heroes of yesteryear Jackie Milburn and Alan Shearer had flown the nest, and he even issued statements about how he had wanted to stay. There was a tit-for-tat exchange between player, manager and football club as to whether Carroll had handed a transfer request in to force the deal through, or whether he had been ordered to. He clearly cared about the club and the Geordie faithful.
An accusation levelled at Liverpool was that they had panic-bought. Certainly they needed a marquee signing to appease fans angry at the departure of Fernando Torres. Liverpool brought in Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. That was still good business wasn’t it? Forget about £35 million for Carroll, that’s what English clubs have to pay for young English players. And this kid had potential – young, and strong, on the cusp of the England squad, and a breath of fresh air in the Premier League. He’d scored 11 goals in 19 league games, so had managed the step up to the Premier League, and his style of play was a nostalgic throwback to good old fashioned English centre forwards. Another player famously associated with both clubs, Kevin Keegan, had described him as “probably in the top three headers of a ball [he had] ever seen in football” – never one to get carried away with things is our Kev.
Fast forward 12 months – to now. Liverpool sit 2nd in the table, 2 points behind Manchester City. Andy Carroll tops the goal scoring charts, level with Fernando Torres. The Kop chants Carroll’s name if he’s playing or not, pundits joke about Liverpool still being a one-man team but it’s not Gerrard they’re talking about. The first name on Fabio Capello’s team sheet is Andy Carroll and the question posed by deep-thinking journalists and bloggers is “Who to partner Carroll?” at the Euro 2012 tournament.
It’s not entirely inconceivable is it? Perhaps it is…. But it wasn’t 12 months ago. And all because Old Biff fished Gray’s Sports Almanac out of a bin and stole the De Lorean.
In reality Liverpool sit 6th in the league table, 13 points shy if City having played one more game. Andy Carroll has scored 2 goals (As has Fernando Torres), level with Martin Skrtel and behind such luminaries as Stephen Ward and Anthony Pilkington. The Kop chants Luis Suarez’s name, whether he’s banned for making racist comments or not, pundits joke about Liverpool still being a one-man team and it’s still Gerrard they’re talking about. Carroll is barely in contention for the England Squad – people like Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge have leapfrogged him and the question posed by deep-thinking journalists and bloggers is “Where has it all gone wrong for Andy Carroll?”
At Newcastle, despite his young age, the team was built to his strengths. Conventional, if limited, wingers such as Wayne Routledge and Jonas Gutierrez scorched the flanks, firing crosses for Carroll to steam on to and head home. Carroll led the line, either up top on his own or assisted by Shola Ameobi or Leon Best. Both Best and Ameobi like getting the score sheet themselves, but just look at how Demba Ba is getting along this season to see how they are players who get the best out of strike partners. Joey Barton not only provided him with quality service, but kept the hacks off his back by playing the greatest game of hooligan one-upmanship since Oasis ruled Cool Brittania and the Gallagher brothers competed to see who could get the most scandalous stories printed about them (Oh, they still do that?).
Carroll was the big fish in a little pond. That’s not meant as a disrespect to Newcastle FC – a big club, but one which had just been relegated and promoted. He liked it that way, cock of the walk. Liverpool have their own home-grown heroes, and are not a team geared up to play to Carroll’s strengths.
Kenny’s tactics in fact may be hindering his expensive forward. Recently he’s been trying out playing Downing on the right (More about him later) and Bellamy on the left. Inverted wingers (those who play on the opposite side to their natural foot) are perfect for cutting in and playing little nippy-nappy intricate triangles, but no so good for hitting the byline and whipping crosses in. That’s the sort of service Andy Carroll needs. Bellamy is a converted striker himself, he’ll always prefer to cut in and look for a scoring opportunity himself than to lay on service for another player – Kuyt too. Needless to say, both Kuyt and Bellamy do an awful lot of work for their team, but it’s not the sort of work that Andy Carroll needs them to do. Dalglish has even been playing Glen Johnson of the left sometimes – instead of his typical overlapping runs, he’s also had to cut inside onto his stronger foot.
The chalkboard above shows all of Downings successful passes during the 74 minutes that Carroll was on the pitch against Manchester City. Downing has only got within 18 yards of the byline twice, and only found Carroll with a pass three times. That’s just not enough. That’s just an example of one game. There has been times that Carroll has been taken off just as Downing has cone on. Or one has player, but not the other – once Downing even came on in place of Carroll. Best crosser and best header of the ball should play together more. As it is, Carroll is struggling for goals, and Downing has not made one single assist. They’ve only played about 1/3 of available game time both on the same pitch.
Liverpool’s short passing game just doesn’t suit Carroll, he’s a very talented player at what he does. But he won’t get much joy swapping positions with more versatile and mobile team-mates, as Suarez can do with wingers or players “in the hole”. He’s a number nine, full stop. Powerful, aggressive and single-minded. He’s not the sort of player to go on a mazy run or play intricate 1-2s with three team-mates before backheeling a lob over a befuddled keeper.
Whilst not wanting to resort to humping long balls up to the big guy up front, Liverpool need to mix it up a bit and alter the way they approach the opposition goal if they want to see a good return on Andy Carroll.
He showed at Newcastle that he’s competent enough to lead the line on his own, he’s certainly physical enough. But he does still need support. If he’s going to be up there as a target man, he needs players making runs around him to flick onto or otherwise bring into the game. Against Manchester City in the recent Carling Cup win over Manchester City, Carroll looked so isolated and dejected, it was bordering on unpleasant. Every long ball that went up to him was a waste of time. If he won the ball, there was nothing to do with it. Admittedly, Liverpool were defending a slender lead against the most expensively assembled squad in English football, so they weren’t too adventurous, but it must have been a long afternoon for Andy.
Carroll was signed injured, and didn’t make his debut for Liverpool for a number of weeks. When a player is as big as Andy Carroll, injuries do take a time to get over. Any man on the street of a similar physique would struggle to regain fitness after a fairly long injury lay off. Big man, means big muscles, means big problems especially if it’s the thigh that’s injured. He was apparently told by management at Liverpool that he needed to shed a few pounds before he’d even kick a ball for them.
Carroll stands at 6’3″ and has never been lean, but if you care to compare images of his Newcastle playing days with a recent photograph, he’s clearly put on a bit of timber. A lot of people ‘fill out’ in their early twenties, few of them are professional footballers though.
Luis Suarez, currently banned for 8 games, has been such a revelation since hitting these shores that team-mates have been looking for him more than they have Carroll. Not that there is very often the choice. Suarez and Carroll have only started a third of league games together, and only both finished the 90 twice – against Everton and Blackburn. They therefore still have a lot of work to do before they can call themselves a partnership of any note.
The injury-delayed start was far from ideal, the wait for the first goal didn’t help either. But, sometimes watching Andy Carroll play football is downright awkward and it shouldn’t be that way. It’s affecting his game. Even the things that he should be good at, he is starting to doubt himself. The suspension of Vincent Kompany put Carroll up against Stefan Savic – and most people expected him to fill his boots and Savic’s. But he didn’t, he was outmuscled by a gangly beanpole. He was kept quiet. Simply running with the ball became too much for him that game, he tripped over himself, bouncing the ball off his thigh – to jeers of derision from the crowd.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that this is a young man, after all. He’s falliable, he’s competitive, and he’s human. Poor form can become somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a player lets it affect his head, then it’s almost guarenteed to continue. The huge £35 million price tag hasn’t helped either in this regard. Expectation are so high for Andy Carroll, perhaps he needs to go through this perjury and come out of it phoenix-like, the other side.
Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam
As mentioned above, Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll have only been on the pitch together for about a third of possible minutes played. But, even when they have played together nothing has happened between them. On paper, Downing is the best crosser of the ball in that Liverpool squad, and Carroll is the best header of the ball. Everyone knows that football matches aren’t played on paper, but it’s like they’ve never met…
Jordan Henderson has had a similarly unimpressive debut season so far with the Reds. In fact, Henderson and Downing seem to be doing their best to make Carroll’s price-tag look reasonable.
Charlie Adam. Not an impressive start for the supposed playmaker signed form Blackpool after a long and flirtatious pursuit. Not being burdened with an eight figure price-tag may have helped Charlie settle on Merseyside, because he hasn’t been as woeful as the other recent signings, but there seems to be a lack of invention, perhaps a lack of subtlety in his game. Guile – that’s the word. Adam’s passing has been lacking the vision and guile that is expected of him.
A good example of this is to contrast his passing with that of Steven Gerrard in the recent Premier League loss to Manchester City. Steven Gerrard came on as a sub for Charlie Adam after almost an hour, and played 35 successful passes out of a total of 43 attempts, compared to 32 successful passes out of 43 for Adam. In roughly half the time, he had completed more passes than the man he replaced. Not many players compare favourably with Steven Gerrard in a Liverpool shirt, but that’s astonishing. It is compounded when the positional data is looked at.
As the chalkboards show, Charlie Adam played twice as long as Steven Gerrard but completed fewer passes – and none going forward in the final third of the pitch. (The only completion seen on that top chalkboard is a throw in). Charlie’s central midfield colleague managed two forward passes in the final third of the pitch – but then he did play 90 minutes. Liverpool have missed thier talismanic captain, and no-one moreso than Andy Carroll.