Will Tidey - Are Liverpool fans ready for the Andy Carroll era?
Published: 17 Mar 2011 - 07:20:06
Liverpool fans have been forced to accept an uncomfortable new reality in recent years. Their club is struggling to balance the books, they've sold a good number of their best players, and Manchester United have drawn level on that great bastion of 18 league titles.
But you get a sense they're no longer walking through the storm on their own. Hope has arrived in the form of Kenny Dalglish, the Merlin of their once great Camelot, and a glimpse of the future in a £35 million striker called Andy Carroll.
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Carroll was brought with the Russian rubles Chelsea paid for Fernando Torres, one of their best two players, but fortunately for everybody concerned at Liverpool the Spaniard has forgotten how to play since returning from the World Cup. Meanwhile, Carroll strode into Anfield like he was the sorcerer's apprentice.
Fan psychology is not that complicated. Torres left a hole in the hearts of the Liverpool faithful, and they want Carroll to fill it. The giant Geordie has been cast as the flag bearer for a new era at Anfield, and he has little choice but to embrace the responsibility.
Against Braga last week, Carroll delivered the kind of impact his transfer fee demands. Liverpool without him were a dying team hopelessly devoid of inspiration and vitality. When he entered the fray early in the second half he served as their defibrillator.
Suddenly Braga were on the back foot. Liverpool lurched into life and Carroll was the focal point for almost every forward motion. He won practically everything in the air and his team-mates adjusted almost immediately to his presence on the field. They played long balls forward and looked to feed off his scraps.
This was Liverpool playing like Stoke, albeit with a more glamorous target for their towering punts down the field. But the approach was clear - when Carroll is on the pitch, they hit him as early as possible, at every possible opportunity. They were, for all intents and purposes, playing the long ball game.
It's an approach that marks something of a departure from the midfield pinball of the Rafa Benitez era, and a seismic shift from the total football purveyed back in the days when Dalglish and Rush were staking their claim as the greatest strike partnership English football has known.
But it could well represent Liverpool's most streamlined route back to the big time. Without Carroll they looked toothless in Portugal, but with him they had the kind of snarling gnashers you get the feeling could grind out results at places like...well, Stoke.
A more direct approach is certainly not alien to Dalglish. In leading Blackburn to the Premier League title he leaned heavily on the aerial abilities of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton - and to prolific success.
But the question is, how will Liverpool fans react to their team playing a refined version of kick-and-rush? Twenty years ago they might have rejected on principle, but different times call for different minds. And if Carroll and this team start firing, you get the feeling they'll barely notice.
Of course, if he gets off to kind of stuttering start that Peter Crouch did at Anfield, Liverpool's long-ball game could bring a very different reaction from their long-suffering faithful.
The future is in Carroll's hands. Or, more precisely, on his head.
- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:Will Tidey
- Will Tidey writes on sport for CNN, Eurosport-Yahoo! and Bleacher Report, amongst others. His first book, 'Life with Sir Alex', an account of Sir Alex Ferguson's 25-year reign at Manchester United, is set for release in October this year. Pre-order it now at http://tinyurl.com/6xzl62b. And follow Will on Twitter here - www.twitter.com/willtidey
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