Andy Carroll’s Liverpool career never really got off the ground. Injured when he made his £35m move, the England striker appeared to struggle with form and fitness throughout his 18 months on Merseyside.
Brendan Rodgers did not feel the tall, powerful forward would fit into his fluid, dynamic style of play, so the Geordie was shipped out to West Ham United on loan.
Injuries have again plagued him and two goals from 12 appearances hardly proved the doubters wrong. However, a tall, powerful, battling forward, dangerous in the air and with a left foot that can thump a ball in from 25-yards, is the kind of player Liverpool lack and one that may have broken down a determined and organised Baggies side.
Carroll’s price-tag has certainly hung round his neck like a millstone. To only use him as a bit-part player, for the odd cameo or against weak opposition, seems like a waste. However, all the top teams use rotation and as the big target man is out of vogue at the moment, it may be the only way Carroll can play for both a top team in England and for his country.
Carroll showed with a planted header in the 3-2 win over Sweden in Euro 2012 that he offers a threat unique in England, arguably beyond, and defenders are increasingly uneasy when dealing with him if he receives quality service.
Daniel Sturridge has been a revelation since making his move from Chelsea but it is worrying that Liverpool are already so dependent on him. Three goals from four appearances is an impressive start to his Reds career, but it is more the fact he is willing to lead the line and allow Luis Suarez to fill a free role behind him that really makes the difference to Liverpool’s attack.
Liverpool had 57% possession and 23 shots against West Brom on Monday night, but having Carroll on the pitch would have changed the pattern of the game. As long as Rodgers’ men did not fall into the trap of hitting the ball long to the ex-Newcastle no.9, Carroll could have led the attacking line.
West Brom might have stepped up to stop balls coming in to the big man or to allow him within a header of goal, leaving space for Suarez, Downing and the rest to run into. When the ball went wide Carroll would have offered a genuine threat from crosses, and he would have occupied the West Brom central defenders and given the covering midfielders Claudio Yacob and Youssouf Mulumbu something to worry about.
Carroll would need time to settle into Rodgers’ playing style, he’d need to offer more than just a direct option, but it is not as if the striker is incapable of playing football on the deck. Unfortunately, playing for West Ham and Sam Allardyce has not allowed him to develop the technical side of his game as he might need to.
Despite the travails against teams in the top half of the table, Liverpool have made some progress this season. However, they can find it hard to break teams down when given possession but not space.
Michael Laudrup showed at Swansea how a slightly more direct style can pay dividends by leading them to their first major final. 'Tiki-taka' may be nicer to watch but it takes special players to truly make it work. Having a plan B in the mould and quality of Andy Carroll may make the substance equal to the style.
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