It seems that Andy Carroll just cannot catch a break. On Saturday it was confirmed that the West Ham striker would be out for the remainder of the season with his second long-term injury in less than a year.
Without wanting to sound vindictive, that could prove beneficial to West Ham’s fortunes come the final Premier League weekend in May.
Hammers boss Sam Allardyce is understandably frustrated to lose someone he sees as a key player for the most crucial stage of the season.
He told reporters: “It is a big blow for him and us. It is another blow we have to cope with.”
But now that Big Sam is unable to pick Carroll there is a chance that the Hammers’ recent downturn in form could come to an end as it turns out that the Claret and Blues actually have better record without the striker.
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Not so Andy
In the 16 games that Carroll has featured for West Ham this season the Hammers recorded a win percentage of 37.5 per cent with a goals-per-game ratio of 1.19. The former Newcastle and Liverpool man notched up five goals and one assist in that time and admittedly helped guide the Hammers to impressive wins over Swansea City and Hull City.
But, unfortunately for the injury prone striker, West Ham have enjoyed a lot more luck and greater ruthlessness in front of goal when he hasn’t been on the pitch. In the 13 games in which he has been absent, Big Sam’s troops recorded a slightly improved win percentage of 38 per cent but more importantly saw a drastically superior goals-per-game ratio of 1.62.
And don’t forget that the results in that run count for so much more as they include fantastic wins over Liverpool and Manchester City as well as two close fought encounters with Manchester United and an unlucky home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur.
Still a long ball team
Allardyce has done a very good job of pulling the wool over plenty of people’s eyes this season as almost every follower of the Premier League now believes that West Ham are no longer a long-ball team.
And that is true, to be fair, when Carroll has been absent. The combination of Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia was so deadly in big wins against Liverpool and Manchester City because they were able to provide the same aerial threat as Carroll but had twice his agility and ability to stretch defenders out of position.
To everyone looking on it appeared as West Ham had finally shaken their route-one style of play and would go on to be serious European contenders this season.
But once Carroll had returned to the side things very much reverted back to the Big Sam way. The fact that Andy Carroll enters into more aerial challenges per Premier League game (13.9) than any other player in the division and has been involved in a total of 195 of them in a season where he has only made 14 league appearances proves that without a shadow of a doubt. Essentially, when Andy Carroll is in the side, Allardyce bends the shape of the team to suit his inclusion.
West Ham’s potential
So the fact that Allardyce will be unable to pick Carroll until the end of the season should be good news to Hammers fans as the club looks to at least challenge for a European finish.
The next 18 months or so are incredibly important for West Ham as they prepare to move to the Olympic Stadium for the beginning of the 2016/17 season. If they are already challenging for Europe on regular basis before they get into the 54,000 seater stadium then they will have absolutely problems filling it to the brim week-in, week-out. Their long-term plan is to cement themselves up there with Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs as one of London's super clubs. Their early season form looked as if it was providing the ideal platform for that but all that attacking flair has dissipated.
In my opinion, although it might sound harsh, anything that could jeopardise long-term success in the build up to such a drastic infrastructural change plan needs to be jettisoned from the club. And I think Carroll falls into that category. Big Sam will always have that preference for the long ball and if he can’t be trusted not to pick Carroll ahead of the more mobile Valencia or Sakho then maybe the board needs to intervene. Sounds extreme, I know, but sometimes success is the product of bold decisions.
Nolan, no way
Of course in football things are never black and white and do not think for one second that I want to single out Carroll as the main reason for West Ham’s dip in form. After all, Carroll’s return to the side in November was not the start of their slide down the table – but Nolan’s return to the starting line-up in January was.
The return of Kevin Nolan to the side has been one that very few can fathom especially when Allardyce seems so keen to deploy him on the wings. In games that Nolan has started this season the Hammers have won and lost 35.71 per cent of the time. But take him out of the equation and their win percentage increases to 46.66 per cent and their two defeats in the 15 games where he has been kept away from the starting line-up dramatically decrease the losing percentage to 13.33 per cent.
His lack of pace makes him a liability in wide areas making him unable to provide width for attacks. So obviously Andy Carroll has missed out on the quality service needed for a player of his type in recent games. And on the defensive side of the ball Nolan is too slow to provide adequate protection for the full-backs who like to bomb forward and he experiences the same issue when he is deployed centrally.
But for me, Nolan’s poor performances really say more about West Ham’s defensive issues since the turn of the year than what they offer going forward.
The truth still remains that West Ham simply score more goals when they don’t have Carroll in the side then when the entire team is asked to cater to his needs. The increased creativity of the free-flowing football the Hammers play with the likes of Valencia and Sakho enable West Ham more flexibility in getting on the scoresheet – in other words they can try different things offensively because those strikers have a more versatile skill set.
But at the end of the day, if Allardyce is one thing it is stubborn. Nolan has served him admirably in his time at Bolton Wanderers and at West Ham so he is unlikely to be ostracised in quite the same way that the Upton Park faithful have been craving. And Andy Carroll is exactly the type of player that would have been the first name on the team sheet at any of Allardyce’s former sides because he simply prefers that style of football – it’s that simple.
Big Sam has done an admirable job at managing West Ham this season but if their mediocrity with the likes of Nolan and Carroll in the side continues for any longer we may find Hammers fans calling for the same thing they were this time last year – a new manager.