THERE are generally two types of managers in football. You get those that like to use the same tactics and style of football at every club they manage, and those who will adjust their tactics to suit the players at their disposal. Brendan Rodgers is certainly one of the former. The minute Liverpool’s owners decided to appoint the former Swansea man as their manager, the writing was on the wall for Andy Carroll’s career on Merseyside. Has the big Geordie been treated unfairly?
First, we need context. When mentioning the ponytailed striker, it’s almost impossible not to mention the £35m fee paid by Liverpool to sign him from Newcastle. How has he done for Liverpool? Not very well is the general consensus. Yet, there’s still a majority of goodwill and support for him from Liverpool supporters, who realise he is only 23 years old and clearly has the potential to be a very successful target man in the English game. He has shown glimpses of that potential. His brace in a 3-0 win over Manchester City was a perfect showcase of the power in his left footed shooting, and his raw aggression when attacking balls in the air. Looking a little further down the line, Carroll has actually had a pretty decent 2012 in a Liverpool shirt. He started the year by creating goals for Bellamy against Bolton, and for Kuyt in a 2-1 FA Cup victory over Manchester United. He then scored the opener in a 3-0 win at Wolves, scored a late winner in a 3-2 thriller against Blackburn at Ewood Park, before scoring a late winner in the FA Cup semi win over Everton. However, the fact that he didn’t start the FA Cup final must have hurt Carroll and he arrived on the pitch in raging bull mode, battering the Chelsea defence around for 35 minutes and scoring a fine goal to put his side in with a chance of a comeback. This wasn’t the only time Kenny Dalglish failed to use Carroll correctly. For large parts of the season, when Carroll was in the starting XI, Stewart Downing – the player bought to provide crosses for Carroll – would be left on the bench. Downing would then start games with Suarez or Bellamy as the main striker, players not suited to benefitting from his crosses. Looking back at the stats, Downing and Carroll started only 13 out of 38 games games together last season. This was a waste of resources on two counts from Dalglish.
What exactly does Rodgers want to see from his team?
Firstly, he likes short build-up play from the back. This means that his goalkeeper must be very comfortable with the ball at his feet, and look to play all goalkicks short to his central defenders, who will usually open up either side of the big box, and look to start all attacks, as well as being constant options for the midfielders to go back to. He likes the midfield players to be very comfortable under pressure, constantly looking for the ball off the back four, and for them to be quick to press – usually in groups of 2 or 3 – to win back possession. The wide players are usually used a little higher up the pitch and are expected to work with the lone centre forward to force mistakes from the opposition defenders, and to force them to go long whenever possible. The lone striker must be quick, able to keep the ball in tight spaces, and must be a very hard worker, whilst still being tactically intelligent enough to know when and where to initiate the pressing. So in summary: short passing, no long balls, not a lot of crosses, lots of selfless chasing, good skill in tight situations, and tactical intelligence. Does that sound like “Big Andy”? No, unfortunately it doesn’t.
Couldn’t Rodgers work with Carroll and help him to adjust to the style of play though? Yes, this is possible. There are no guarantees, though, that Carroll has the ability or intelligence to reinvent himself as a footballer, even at 23. However, the more pertinent question is whether the other Liverpool players could resist looking long for Carroll, especially as playing out from the back is a more risky and requires a lot more courage from the defenders and goalkeeper. That question was answered towards the end of the August 26’th 2-2 draw against Manchester City. With Liverpool chasing the 3 points, Carroll was introduced for the final 7 minutes. How did his team mates respond? Pepe Reina immediately reverted to kicking the ball long up to Carroll. This was effective, but that isn’t the issue here. Rodgers simply doesn’t want a long ball Plan B in the DNA of his side. Even when chasing games, he wants his side to keep the ball on the ground and stick to his philosophies. That game would have removed any doubts he may have had about keeping Carroll. If there is no target man on the pitch, every Liverpool defender (and Reina) is forced to keep the passing short. The philosophy is implemented because no alternative exists. Rodgers has accelerated this assimilation further by signing a player from Swansea in Joe Allen, who’s already familiar with “Rodgers football”, and the excellent Turkish playmaker, Nuri Şahin, who is also a very adept pass-and-move footballer. The entire process has been accelerated with the addition of those midfielders, and will be accelerated further by Carroll being jettisoned.
Carroll has now joined West Ham United on a season-long loan deal with, it appears, an option to purchase him for £17m at the end of the season, should both parties agree. The loan fee is £1.5m for the season. West Ham are also paying all of his wages. Carroll should excel at his new club. He already has a very good chemistry and understanding with Kevin Nolan, and the delivery of Matt Jarvis should yield plenty of chances. The generally more direct football suits him far more, and I could foresee him getting 10+ league goals.
“Andy’s a huge player in this division who scores goals and contributes to build-up play, and has many different aspects to his game which can help us be a force in this league.”
It appears he won’t be returning as long as Rodgers is the manager. You’d imagine that Carroll was allowed to leave because Rodgers felt he could bring a replacement in on deadline day. Rodgers’ comments here suggest as much. This failed to materialize and Liverpool now look a striker short. Is that better than having an extra striker who doesn’t suit the style of football? Probably not. That question can only be answered in a year’s time though, when we see how Carroll performed at West Ham, how Liverpool dealt without any discernable depth in attack, and how youngsters like Adam Morgan take the chances that will inevitably come their way. For now, it’s promising that Liverpool’s owners have bought in to Rodgers so much that they will allow him to offload a £35m signing on a loan deal. They clearly have full trust in his judgement. I imagine that will last as long as the club and the style are going in the right direction.