Aaron discusses the improved form of striker Andy Carroll who is looking like a £35m player in recent months.
World Cups and European Championships represent odd times for Liverpool supporters. A number of us consider ourselves more scouse than English, whether or not we were born on Merseyside. The celebrity, scandal and politics associated with the national team leaves a bad taste, causing many to turn their back on the side and instead wait impatiently for August to roll round.
Yet whether you take a passing or telling interest in this summer’s tournament it is impossible to avoid the coverage afforded Roy Hodgson’s squad. Many of those column inches, this week at least, have been dedicated to our very own Andy Carroll. Long derided and mercilessly written-off, the towering Geordie is beginning to rediscover his best form.
On Friday night Carroll was most impressive. Hunting possession, bullying defenders and offering a constant aerial threat, he resembled the beast so celebrated at Newcastle upon promotion. Whether or not he helps England to unlikely glory, his condition and form should excite reds fans everywhere.
It would be fair to say we have yet to see the best of our record signing. Bought in a state of panic following Fernando Torres’ betrayal, he arrived at Anfield first injured and then off the pace such was his fitness. With a full pre-season under his belt we hoped for better things last term, only to be disappointed with a miss-mash of performances. To be fair to Carroll he was in and out of the team and bizarrely dropped whenever he showed glimpses of improvement. Our style of play also hindered him at times, though his striking lack of confidence suggested his would be a short and spectacularly bad spell at Liverpool.
Around March however the big man found a second wind. Ironically, his form picked-up following that catastrophic afternoon at his old stomping ground. Booked for diving and substituted by Kenny Dalglish, he was roundly criticised by most supporters. Nonetheless, his desire and work-rate in that game was evident – no doubt due to the opposition.
Determined to silence his many doubters Carroll dramatically upped his game from thereon in. A last gasp winner against Blackburn at Ewood was just reward for a hard-working display, while his late, late header to beat Everton at Wembley will live long in the memory.
Despite the reds then suffering home defeats to West Brom and Fulham Carroll’s improvement remained clear for all to see. He seemed to have rediscovered his physical presence, while his touch – the cause of great debate amongst fans – sharpened to the extent where he was finally linking play and maintaining possession.
Given his upturn in fortunes it was somewhat of a shock to see him excluded from the team that started the FA Cup Final. Nevertheless his impact from the bench was such he threatened to single-handedly steal the trophy from Chelsea’s grasp. Like a man possessed he bulldozed John Terry at every given opportunity and added bite to an otherwise toothless attack. His goal meanwhile was quite exquisite, displaying fine footwork before smashing home from close range. Had the game continued for another ten to fifteen minutes the reds would surely have overpowered their opponents, our sheer dominance at that point all emanating from an unplayable Carroll.
A sudden clamour saw him in from the start for a re-run against Roberto Di Matteo and co three days later. Again he dazzled, reducing the repulsive Terry to a bewildered wreck and starring as the reds cruised to a fine 4-1 romp.
If anything the season ended at the worst possible time for the combative number 9. Concerns over whether he’d maintain his heightened fitness and muscular presence were allayed when Hodgson selected him for England’s 23 man party. Before Friday’s man-of-the-match efforts and goal the £35 million man also fared well in a warm-up encounter against Norway.
It would be simplistic and hugely naive to suggest he is born-again and ready to fire Liverpool into the Champions League next term but everything bodes well right now.
It will in fact prove intriguing to see just how he fits into new man Brendan Rodger’s set-up. The Northern Irishman is famed for his pass-and-move approach, modelled on the tiki-taka ideals popularised by Barcelona. One wonders whether there is a role for Carroll in such a system.
His initial struggles with us stemmed from the fact we seldom played to his strengths, with Dalglish continually favouring a fast, free-flowing attack with minimal long-ball. Towards the end of the campaign it seemed as though the squad had adapted to Carroll’s game and in-turn he aligned his with the team. Working in tandem, we began to witness the fruits of his labour and just why Kenny had defended his man so steadfastly.
If the team is to improve next season, and they must, Carroll needs to bring his current A-game. A debilitating lack of goals throughout the side crippled any hopes of a top four finish. Luis Suarez chipped-in with a respectable seventeen but only eleven of those were in the league. With little to no help from others the team was never realistically likely to compete.
Our midfielders have to start wading in more, with Charlie Adam’s return disappointing and Stewart Downing’s non-existent. Last term Steven Gerrard represented our only real threat from the centre of the park and his injuries mean he’s never likely to hit twenty plus anymore.
But the gauntlet is also thrown-down to Carroll. Yes, his overall game has undergone rehabilitation but forwards are required to score goals above all else. If he can ease the burden placed on Suarez and any new striker it will surely turn more of those painful and unfortunate draws into wins. That in itself would represent a good start, with home stalemates an overriding factor behind our eighth placed finish.
As we enter a season with plenty new about Liverpool we all hope a sudden return to the Andy Carroll of old can revitalise the squad and set-about restoring us to the elite. First things first though, let’s get those Euros out the way…