A lot of Liverpool fans have been voicing concerns about how Liverpool play when Andy Carroll is in the side. With the £35m man up front, the Reds resort to hoofball tactics which would shame the likes of Bolton these days.
Or do they? In the seven league matches that Carroll played last season, Liverpool, on average, attempted 45.14 long passes (defined as a pass straight from defence to attack), and 45.86 in the seven matches he missed after he signed for the club.
Similarly, accurate long balls increased in number during the games Carroll missed, for an average of 30.14, as opposed to 27.71 when he did play. Small margins granted, but those numbers would suggest that the Reds weren’t playing route one football just because Carroll was in the line-up.
Looking at last weekend’s match with Sunderland, Carroll won all of the nine aerial duels he contested, so is the issue him, or is it Jamie Carragher (as an example, but probably the club’s king of the long ball hoof)?
Does Carragher hit it long because Carroll is there? Because Kenny tells him to? Because there are lack of options close to him? Because he’s not a very good ‘footballer’? Probably a bit of all of these things, but to lay the blame at the Geordie striker’s door seems unfair to me.
I’m not going to sit here and say we played better in the league games Carroll played in compared to those that he missed last season, as it’s just not true. His case has not been aided by the dazzling five goal romps against Birmingham at Anfield and Fulham away, when he was entirely absent from the line up.
He has also only scored two goals for Liverpool so far. However, in the interests of fair play, I think some context is required.
Carroll featured in seven matches last season. These included matches against Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Spurs. Or four of the five teams who finished above Liverpool, if you prefer. That clearly is a disproportionately difficult selection of matches.
Twice Carroll was brought on as a sub when the Reds were already 3-0 up (Manchester United and Newcastle at home). Not impossible that the team or Andy himself would have scored more of course, but they were hardly busting a gut to do so.
Another of his matches was Arsenal away – not a happy hunting ground for Liverpool since the early days of the Premiership, when they won five times in their first eight visits. Since Titi Camara secured a 1-0 win in February 2000, the Reds have only scored nine goals in 11 league visits, and only scored twice once. Even then they were soundly taken apart by a Thierry Henry hat-trick in a 4-2 defeat.
So to blame Carroll in any way seems a little off when much better Liverpool teams than the vintage of 2010/11 have hardly done well at Highbury or The Emirates in recent times.
Carroll also had the misfortune of playing against West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns with Martin Atkinson as the ref. Big Andy complained about after being kicked from pillar to post, to which the referee laughed and told him to get on with it as he was a striker. Who is the ref for the Arsenal match today by the way? I wouldn’t expect miracles from Carroll today if I were you.
In short, I think the two key questions and answers on the Carroll debate are:
Has Carroll been a resounding success yet? No.
Has he had a fair chance to prove himself yet? No.
I’m going to keep the faith for the time being. The final key question is: will Kenny and the majority of the fanbase do the same?