Andy Carroll: 5 Tactical Reasons for His Liverpool Goal Drought

Vince Siu@vincetalksfootyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 20, 2011

Andy Carroll: 5 Tactical Reasons for His Liverpool Goal Drought

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    Is it the price tag? Is it a still-injured thigh? Is it a lack of desire?

    You name it, we've heard it all: the longer Andy Carroll goes without a goal for Liverpool, the more hypothesizing goes on in the search for the golden formula that will once and for all reveal the complete picture behind his Red disappointment.

    A lot of the speculation deals with the player himself, however. Whether it's about his physical condition, his mental strength or even his purported lifestyle, Carroll's problems all apparently stem from within his £35 million, 6'3" frame.

    But does it all have to do with the man himself?

    How is Liverpool's play now different from that of Newcastle, where he made such an impressive impact in his first full season in Premier League?

    For all of Kenny Dalglish's pass-and-move philosophy, perhaps tailoring several facets of Liverpool's attack might do wonders for Andy Carroll and help him gain a new lease of life as a Red.

    In this article, I propose several tactical reasons behind Andy Carroll's discouraging start to life at Anfield—which, if changed around, might just set him on his way to realizing his potential as Liverpool and England's No. 9 for years to come.

5. Luis Suarez's Deep-Lying Playing Style

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    This January, Liverpool shelled out a combined £58 million on a pair of new strikers, breaking their own transfer record twice in the process. Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll were supposed to usher in a new age of Liverpool's famed attacking prowess.

    But they haven't quite set the world alight yet. Besides their lack of playing time together in competitive matches due to the latter's injury problems, does it have to do with their respective natural playing styles?

    The Newcastle team that Andy Carroll starred in mostly played a 4-4-2 formation, with Carroll alongside a smaller, speedier foil, usually in Peter Lovenkrands. While not as technically adept on the ball as Suarez, Lovenkrands was often as close to the last defender as Carroll in that front two.

    With Lovenkrands' agility and speed (which Carroll doesn't lack), his movement off the last man's shoulder often caused problems for the opposing defence, requiring extra attention towards his goalbound movements, creating plenty of space for Carroll to slip into and goalscoring positions for him to take up. Newcastle's midfielders, notably Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton, both with a keen eye for a pass, were then presented with two striking outlets.

    Luis Suarez is a completely different player than Lovenkrands. Suarez possesses pace in abundance, yet the spotlight is always on his trickery, unpredictability and hard work. It's also because of his workhorse tendencies to constantly chase after the ball, dragging him a lot closer to the halfway line than a striker in a 4-4-2 should be. His work ethic ensures that, even when he is placed as the more advanced forward between the front two, he finds himself near the midfield when the ball arrives at his feet. Suddenly with 20 extra yards to cover before getting into a shooting position, Suarez faces more defenders to go past, while those marking Carroll will sit comfortably knowing that he's Liverpool's only advanced threat.

    How Can Liverpool Sort This Out?

    By playing a speedier, out-and-out striker alongside Carroll when Liverpool play a 4-4-2.

    Craig Bellamy, perhaps initially signed as an experienced backup or an impact substitute, will be able to fulfill this role to perfection. His attacking partnership with Alan Shearer during their Newcastle days will have given him plenty of experience alongside a powerhouse frontman like Carroll.

    And who knows? Perhaps this is just the partnership to spark Carroll into Shearer-like life.

4. Andy Carroll as a Link-Up Player

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    Following Suarez's tendencies to drift towards the midfield, so too does Carroll find himself moving further and further away from the goal in a bid to get things going.

    As a traditional targetman, Carroll finds himself in the unwanted and unhelpful position of the midfield link-up man, similar to the role Peter Crouch sometimes found himself in during his Liverpool days. Jamie Carragher is an embodiment of Liverpool's unfortunate habit to hoof the ball over the top in an attempt to bypass the midfield directly and to use Carroll's headed passes to set up an attacking play.

    However, in Crouch's day, he was supported by the off-the-shoulder running of Craig Bellamy, Steven Gerrard and, latterly, Fernando Torres. When Carroll's strike partner, Suarez, is found on the wing or near the halfway line and due to Dirk Kuyt's defensive tendencies, Carroll's headers do not reach anyone but an opposing player, and Liverpool's attack breaks down once again.

    How Can Liverpool Sort This Out?

    In a traditional 4-4-2 formation, Kenny Dalglish would instruct Carroll to stick to his center-forward responsibilities of leading the line and setting up chances for his strike partner.

    A tactical instruction to keep Carroll on the toes of the last defender would also see Liverpool's attack line forced further forward, which would both discourage opposing defenders from holding a high backline and Liverpool's defence from hitting more long balls.

3. Slow Counterattacking Play

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    In the days of the Gerrard-Torres axis, Pepe Reina and Xabi Alonso completed a fearsome foursome when it came to counterattacking football.

    Reina's distribution, coupled with Alonso's searching long passes, Gerrard's box-to-box energy and incisive through-balls, and Fernando Torres' direct runs at the defenders meant that defending a corner would often quickly turn into an exciting attacking move at the opposite end of the pitch.

    Now without Alonso's famed passing and Torres' fearsome speed, Liverpool's counterattacks often begin with Reina's long throws or goalkicks, only to stop at Luis Suarez or Dirk Kuyt near the halfway line. With Lucas, Kuyt, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing's tendencies to play the short safe pass to a nearby colleague, the incisive passing responsibilities fall to Charlie Adam and the still-injured Steven Gerrard. 

    The terrifying counterattacks that Liverpool used to be capable of appear to be consigned to the past.

    How Can Liverpool Sort This Out?

    Steven Gerrard's return will add some much-needed drive to the Liverpool midfield, who seem content to keep the ball and focus more on a possession-heavy strategy.

    With a stronger impetus to look for a frontrunner, and with the ball-playing ability to split a defence to set Liverpool's strikers on their way, Gerrard will be able to send a quick pass into enemy territory. And with Suarez's dribbling and Carroll's often-underrated pace, Liverpool's front two might just find themselves in a one-on-one situation on a Liverpool counter.

2. Lack of Short, Incisive Passing

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    Pass and move.

    That's the much-espoused philosophy currently being instilled in the Anfield corridors by Kenny Dalglish and his backroom team.

    Unlike Barcelona's possession play, which relies on short, simple passes and players with incredible individual ability to run into space and go past their man (players that Liverpool lack), Liverpool's pass-and-move relies on incisive passing from the entirety of Liverpool's attacking contingent to unsettle the opposing defence and create space.

    Whether the formation in use is a 4-4-2, a 4-4-1-1, a 4-2-3-1 or any other formation devised by the coaching staff, the principle remains the same. Yet, with players who prefer to keep it simple, play the ball sideways or pass it backwards, the current Liverpool midfield finds itself congested with all its movements being tracked by the opposition.

    With such a stifled midfield, Carroll and his strike partner, be it Suarez or Bellamy, will also have their runs followed closely by the opposing defenders. No matter how forward the strikers play, it will be hard to play the ball along the ground and towards their feet. And Andy Carroll is not a Peter Crouch—he unfortunately does not possess the technical trickery to claim the ball in the midfield areas and weave his way through to the goal.

    How Can Liverpool Sort This Out?

    A quick review of Carroll's goals for Newcastle sees that he scored a sizable portion by finishing off a passing, attacking move.

    Playing with wingers does not require crosses to be floated or drilled into the penalty box. Wingers are in the side to stretch out the opposing defence, creating space for the midfield to move into. If Liverpool's wing options make use of this strategy, they might just be able to open up the middle of the park, leaving Carroll to one of his strengths: controlling the ball with his left foot and firing across the goalkeeper following a clean, incisive pass.

1. Not Enough Set Pieces, Corners and Crosses

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    Andy Carroll has been compared to Alan Shearer and Didier Drogba. Kevin Keegan once called him "one of the top three headers of a ball" he had seen.

    For all of his pace and finishing ability, Carroll's most fearsome and strongest attribute is his aerial prowess. And Liverpool are currently not using his strengths to their fullest.

    Despite being capable of some sumptuous flowing football, the lack of mercurial dribblers means that Liverpool do not end up with many fouls in the attacking third. The structured and direct passing means that space is created, but players do not find themselves having to go past their marker individually.

    When the going is smooth, this works a treat. When the going gets tough, however, Liverpool are not creating enough set pieces for Andy Carroll to get his head on.

    Nor, for that matter, are they creating enough corners. And when they do get corners, they often do not play to Carroll's strengths with a direct ball into the box. We've seen some short corners that do not end up near the goal, and that's not what Carroll wants. With a fearsome left-foot delivery like Adam's, Liverpool should really take advantage of Carroll's heading ability.

    So, too, Liverpool's crossing play. At present, Dalglish's habit of having Henderson and Downing switch flanks does offer some variability across the midfield. However, their crosses from their weaker positions are often in-swingers that defenders find easier to head out, and goalkeepers to claim. 

    And Liverpool don't lack in crossers, either. Imagine Downing and Jose Enrique on the left, with left-footed out-swingers from the left touchline, and Henderson, Kuyt, Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly from the right.

    How Can Liverpool Sort This Out?

    Simple, really.

    Get into more threatening positions by a more incisive attacking strategy to attract more freekicks and corners. And cross more often. 

    After all, Andy Carroll made his name as a No. 9. For Liverpool to not take advantage of his height, power and heading would be travesty, indeed.

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