The Andy Carroll conundrum

Andy Carroll, Liverpool FCWith Andy Carroll the subject of an enquiry from Newcastle, the frenzied speculation that has arisen over Liverpool’s previously-derided £35million hitman has now resulted in every LFC fan discussing his role in the much talked about Brendan Rodgers system.

The most common responses to the debate over the Geordie number 9 have been: “he’s not mobile enough for the system” or “Swansea don’t cross the ball they play it on the deck” as a summary that Carroll is just not suited to the new style that Liverpool intend on playing under Rodgers.

These arguments are not without foundation – if you try to picture Swansea’s swashbuckling style last season you will find it hard to place the big Geordie leading the line in place of the mobile Danny Graham. Take out Graham for Suarez this season in a revamped Liverpool team and you begin to think Carroll is surplus to requirements.

Reading some stats from the excellent eplindex.com analyses Carroll/Graham – in particular passing completion statistics – which are a vital part of Rodger’s possession based game. Here is a quote that compares the two:

“On a purely passing analysis, Carroll looks potentially better than Swansea’s Danny Graham, who played under Rodgers, with Carroll playing more passes (0.35/min vs. 0.21/min) but being less accurate (64% vs. 77% accuracy). Maybe he could fit in a Rodgers team after all?”

Carroll in these stats is looking to play passes often, even more than Danny Graham, which really buys into Rodgers philosophy. However it’s difficult to use these figures as concrete evidence, as looking back at last season whenever Carroll played he was often isolated as a target man and passes would have been more difficult to make – and may often have been headers to team-mates, where as Graham would have been closer to the likes of Sigurdsson and Scott Sinclair to lay off neat one-twos. Interestingly therefore with a bigger emphasis on putting pressure further up the field with team-mates that are closer to A.C then perhaps the target man will find it easier to link up and thrive in a new style that provides him extra support.

It’s also worthwhile looking at Carroll’s tackling percentages, as a massive part of Rodgers tactics are winning the ball back in as quickly a time as possible, ensuring that his side have possession again to make the opposition run out of energy. Again using stats from EPL Index, Carroll’s tackling percentages are worse than his team-mates (and new boy Fabio Borini’s) at 86 mins per tackle, compared to Suarez’s 73 mins and Bellamy’s 48 mins per tackle. This might confirm what some expected, that the energetic Bellamy and Suarez are preferred in a Rodgers system, as they harass and pressure the opposition into losing the ball high up the pitch.

Reading this it’s easy to think these stats are all well and good, but surely what you want from a striker is to do one thing – score goals. A.C’s chance conversion stats makes tough reading when you consider his £35million price tag (although the fee is hardly his own fault) at a measly 5.19%, with Suarez sitting on 10.2% and Bellamy on 19%. Of course chance conversion has been a subject that’s been covered relentlessly by every Liverpool fan ruing last seasons disappointing performance.

It remains to be seen whether Carroll will get a chance to put these disappointing stats behind him at Liverpool, as Rodgers quotes on the strikers future at Anfield have been far from encouraging, although when asked the question on whether Carroll could fit into his system he did say this: “The club invested £35m in him. People talk about whether he can fit into my style or not, but if you’re a club and you spend £35m on a player you’d like to think he can fit into whatever style the team plays.”

In those quotes lies the problem for Carroll and the stigma that has surrounded him since his arrival at Anfield. THAT transfer fee. The Geordie could score 20 goals next season and still face questions about his transfer fee, it was a ridiculous panic signing at the time of Torres’s departure, and created unnecessary pressure on Kenny Dalglish, Andy Carroll and Fenway Sports Group. There are perhaps 3 or 4 players on the planet right now who could justify a transfer fee like that who would be able to immediately pay it back either through performances, shirt sales or merchandising. Asking a then 22 year old who was relatively untried at Premier League level to shoulder that burden was an irresponsible move by those that sanctioned it.

Much of the other discussion about Rodgers style is that there is no “Plan B” and Carroll would be perfect for that. When you think of the plan B style you imagine long ball football or certainly a more direct style when things aren’t going Liverpool’s way. This is an idea, but probably unrealistic as A) Carroll’s not going to want to sit on the bench waiting for every game to slump to a stalemate until he can get a run-out, B) Once again brings up the issue of having paid £35million for a player who’s going to sit on the bench.

So should Liverpool cut their losses on a player that showed excellent form when fit towards the end of last season? There is no doubting Carroll’s quality, his performance against Blackburn, Chelsea in the league and cup were exceptional – and in my eyes debunked the myth that there is no longer any need for the old fashioned England number 9 battering ram. In the ever confusing days of the “false number 9”, and the favourite buzzword of right now “tiki taka”, everyone seems to be moving towards the idea of playing like Barca/Spain, which is a nice notion, but ultimately unrealistic for a lot of sides.

Carroll’s performances in the second half of the season showed there is still hope for today’s 6ft young 14 year olds playing striker for their youth side and wearing large men’s tops. However I will be very surprised if those kids aren’t idolising a player playing in the black and white of Newcastle by the time the August transfer window shuts.

Stats sourced from EPLIndex.com.

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