West Ham’s purchase of Liverpool’s Andy Carroll – inspired or mad?

Andy Carroll’s much-expected move to West Ham was finalised on Wednesday and is widely believed to end up costing the East Londoners £46m in total – a transfer fee of around £15m and a relatively staggering six-year, £100,000-a-week contract. The question on everybody’s lips is whether Carroll, who scored seven goals in 25 appearances during an injury-plagued loan spell at Upton Park last season, is worth this club-record fee. Just why are West Ham willing to spend so much on a player that Liverpool are prepared to lose £20m on?

The fee the Hammers have paid for the England forward pales in comparison to the £35m price tag Liverpool paid in 2011, yet will still be seen as a hefty fee and neutrals will question just what Carroll has to offer.

Since his move to Liverpool, the former Newcastle man has been much maligned by many, with that fee hanging around his neck like a millstone. Carroll will feel that such a consensus is unwarranted after an impressive run of form towards the end of last season, in which he netted the winner in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton and a consolation goal in the final. Just as Carroll was beginning to settle on Merseyside however, out went the man who had shown so much faith in him – Kenny Dalglish – and in came Brendan Rodgers, a man whose preferred style of play was never going to make provisions for a six-foot-three striker. Those hoping Carroll would be utilised as a Plan B were left disappointed – a regular place as a mere squad player was never going to be an option for someone who cost, and was continuing to cost, so much.

Andy Carroll

The predicament at Anfield was a typical one when the player in question is of Carroll’s ilk. At his best, Carroll terrorises even the most astute of defenders in the air and has a projectile left foot that is always a threat to opposing goalkeepers. At his worst; the pony-tailed Gateshead man is conspicuously left cantering around the final third leaping into defenders just to feel involved when games aren’t catering to his strengths.

At Newcastle, Carroll was at times unplayable – as Arsenal and indeed Liverpool will testify – and when the Anfield club came in for the striker it was to nobody’s surprise – after all, Tottenham and Chelsea were also known to be keeping a close eye on him. It was of course the astronomical fee that Liverpool paid that shocked the football world and, more than likely, the player himself.  As the disbelief began to fade however, there was a genuine belief that this was the step that this rising star needed in order to completely fulfil the potential he had shown. Of course, this wasn’t the case and those who have watched the striker closely from his impressive Championship days have been left with a residual sense of frustration and disappointment.

Carroll is certainly capable of reaching double figures next season under Sam Allardyce, who is sure to give his new striker the run of games, fitness permitting, he so desperately needs. A strike partner is yet to be shipped in at Upton Park after Allardyce’s failed attempt to audaciously land Alvaro Negredo from Sevilla, but whoever is brought in must play to and off Carroll’s strengths. The aerial strength of Carroll is such that he is more than capable of assisting as many goals as he can score – something he hinted at several times last season alongside Kevin Nolan. There are few defenders who can handle Carroll at his best and if Allardyce has the tools to tap into this rich source of goals then Upton Park may well have a new hero. The player himself must also play his part, as the coming season will be vital with the pressure very much eased on his still young shoulders. He will no longer have pound signs floating over his head whenever he fails to meet a cross or squanders a chance, and hopefully Carroll will eye this as an opportunity to remind us all of the player he is capable of being.

Ask any Liverpool, or even Newcastle, supporter about Andy Carroll and the majority will, perhaps reluctantly, speak fondly of the lummox that was their number 9. While others will scoff at the amount that has been spent on Carroll – his two transfers combined far outweighs the money that has ever been spent on Robin van Persie for instance – West Ham fans should be comforted by the lack of ill-feeling towards their new man from those around Anfield. One thing that Carroll is certain to provide fans is a mixed bag of frustration at his unfulfilled but palpable talent and resounding elation when the smiling Geordie wheels away after scoring. The Upton Park faithful will hope for more of the latter and you would suspect that so will those at Anfield and St James’ Park, where a frustrated soft spot for the big man well and truly remains.

Can Brendan Rodgers’ appointment restore Liverpool’s former glory?

It has been two very different seasons for managers Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers, with a disappointing eighth place finish for the Anfield outfit – scraping silverware in the Carling Cup – whilst the Swans of South Wales have comfortably survived their first year of Premier League football. However, the 39 year-old Northern Irishman will face one of his biggest challenges yet as the new Liverpool manager.

Brendan Rodgers has had a fantastic year, managing Swansea City, and no one could have predicted the outcome of their first season in top-flight football since 1983.  Swansea caused many upsets against the big teams including wins over Manchester City, Arsenal and a 1-0 defeat of Liverpool on the last day of the season. Often called “The Welsh Barcelona”, due to their unique approach to possession football, not to mention Leon Britton, who is Europe’s most accurate passer above both Xavi and Andres Iniesta; Rodgers has developed a style of football based on starving the opposition of possession, relieving pressure with the ball, and sustaining patient build-up play until forwards, Danny Graham, Scott Sinclair, and Nathan Dyer, can produce something special in the final third.

As for the move to Liverpool, you can see why American owner John Henry has appointed Rodgers as the new manager, despite considering the options of Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Martinez and Fabio Capello. When it comes to developing young British talent, Rodgers is the man you want. Starting as a youth team coach for Reading, and then moving to manage the youth team at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, Rodgers will be able to bring the best out of the Liverpool youngsters who have endured a below par season including Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll – the collective sum of around £50m.

As well as his experience in coaching youth players, Liverpool fans will be wondering if Rodgers will implement his entertaining brand of passing football into the Liverpool game, and if he will bring players over from his former Welsh side. 23 year-old Scott Sinclair, homegrown Joe Allen, and Icelandic superstar Gylfi Sigurdsson – who has not yet officially signed for Swansea after agreeing a fee of £6.8m – could be favourites to make a move considering Liverpool’s problems in midfield. The former Reading and Watford manager will bring with him first-team coach Colin Pascoe, match-analyst Chris Davies and conditioning expert Glen Driscoll to help him in his new start at Anfield.

On the other hand, it will be Rodgers’ first experience of managing a top-class team and their progress in Europe next season will be a real test of the Northern Irish manager’s ability not only to play in the Premier League, but to battle and win the Europa League. Unlike any club he has managed before, Rodgers will have to deal with big personalities such as Merseyside legend Steven Gerrard, and the controversial Luis Suarez.

To conclude, there is no doubt that Brendan Rodgers will be paramount to fixing the errors and mishaps of an unsatisfactory and forgettable season for Liverpool. He will have much to write about in his little notebook this summer and will hope to capitalise on a bigger budget than he’s ever had before. He might be praying that he doesn’t end up being just another Kop flop.

By Jacob Tucker

England vs France: The key battles in this Euro 2012 grudge-match

England have been drawn against old enemies France in Group D of Euro 2012, and the clash on June 11th will have a major bearing on each side’s chances of progression in the tournament. With a month to go before the nations do battle the Three Lions are slight favourites, but it should be a close encounter. With Sweden and Ukraine in the pool also, both teams will look to get an early advantage in the competition.

With the domestic campaigns drawing to a close in the Premier League and Ligue 1, Laurent Blanc and Roy Hodgson will have their squads for the tournament all but decided, with a few decisions potentially still to be made. Les Bleus coach has named a strong looking provisional squad, with a raft of English-based players included, whilst the West Brom man has revealed that he will name his contingent on Wednesday.

Despite the full tournament squads yet to be announced, the main players for both sides are known and will play a key role in deciding the outcome of the encounter. France have a good blend of young talent and experienced heads, and their strength lies in central midfield and in a couple of talented individual attackers. The battle for possession in the centre of the park will be a key element to deciding the outcome, with Blanc able to choose from Yohan Cabaye, Yann M’Vila, Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano in the heart of his midfield. Scott Parker will have a role to play in breaking up the French passing game, whilst the likes of Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard will look to mix it with their opponents.

French matchwinners include skilful wingers Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa, whilst the goalt-hreat will be provided by Karim Benzema. England’s full-backs must monitor the widemen carefully, with a big responsibility falling on Kyle Walker, Micah Richards or Glen Johnson’s shoulders to shackle Bayern Munich superstar Ribery. The centre of the English defence will also be wary of giving Benzema space, as the Real Madrid man is one of Europe’s form strikers currently.

Going the other way, new boss Hodgson will be without his talismanic forward Wayne Rooney due to suspension, and has key decisions to make in attack. With Darren Bent still on the sidelines with injury and on the borderline of missing out, no other centre forwards shout out as sure things. Hodgson will consider the likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe, Andy Carroll and maybe even Peter Crouch to lead his line, but the English attack will be limited due to Rooney’s absence.

The eventual England squad should have pace to burn however, with widemen Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon all with the necessary speed to harry the French defenders. There is also a case for Paul Scholes’ inclusion to add a bit of creativity to the side, but Hodgson will look to his wingers to provide the necessary penetration.

The game is sure to full of natural pride and passion, but England must compete with the technical abilities of the France side to get a result. The odd goal may well decide this game, but it should be an exciting and enthralling match.

Published – Ghana Soccernet

Chelsea’s FA Cup triumph: The collapse of King Kenny as the Blues ride their luck

A resilient backline and a spectacular attacking force made a wonderful day for Chelsea fans and club, as the Di Matteo turn-around was finally credited with a domestic trophy, leaving Kenny Dalglish’s management, once again, under huge criticism.

If there was one way to describe the FA Cup Final this year, it would be a game of two halves, as we saw the first half dominated by the men in blue, until the 60th minute when substitute Andy Carroll scored a revitalising goal that transformed the Anfield outfit into a dangerous attacking force. The first 45 minutes held a sense of déjà vu for Liverpool fans, as they saw a performance lacking creativity, chances, and momentum. Not only were the forwards under-performing, but another weak defensive performance was to blame, when Ramires slotted a strike home in the 11th minute, beating Spanish goalkeeper Pepe Reina at the near post, who was once again to blame with poor judgement and positioning.

More chances came from the Blues after Salomon Kalou made a steaming run through Liverpool’s defensive third but was stopped by a desperate Martin Skrtel tackle inside the box. Early into the second half another goal came for the west London side as a beautifully measured pass by Frank Lampard saw Drogba into a dangerous position, who in turn hit it perfectly into the far right corner of the net. A few minutes after Chelsea had a great chance to finish it off when a fluid attacking move from the Stamford Bridge outfit saw Kalou into a dangerous position, but the Ivorian put it high and wide, leaving him hoping that he wouldn’t come to regret that opportunity.

The turning point of the game was the substitution of Andy Carroll for Jay Spearing, and many will be wondering why the huge powerhouse did not play from the start. Chelsea’s first scare came half-way into the second part of the game, when the substitute scored a reasonably lucky goal after a tackle by Stewart Downing swooped the ball out from the feet of Jose Bosingwa and favourably into the path of the £35m target man, who converted with an unstoppable shot above Petr Cech. For the last 25 minutes, the Blues were once again playing a back-against-the-wall performance, suffering wave after wave of attacks from a newly-revived Liverpool side. Countless crosses were delivered into the box before another great chance came when Carroll got his head onto a back post ball and thought it was in, but the Liverpool forward was denied by Petr Cech, who made a fantastic goal-line save to keep Chelsea in the game and allowed them to go on and secure their victory.

There is no doubt, Kenny Dalglish will be harshly criticised for picking a very wrong starting XI – playing an inexperienced Jay Spearing at the important role of holding midfielder, and assorting themselves in a 4-5-1 formation with Luis Suarez playing a very isolated role upfront. When Carroll came on, it allowed the Uruguayan to drop deeper and play a creative role as a second striker, as well as having the danger-man in the box waiting on those vital crosses – all in all giving Liverpool an eye for goal. Taking nothing away from Chelsea, Didier Drogba had a particularly good game, and was crucial in holding the ball up and bringing the midfielders into play with his awareness and experience; complemented by the creative Juan Mata, and speedy wingers Salomon Kalou and Ramires, the Chelsea forwards were a force to be reckoned with. Their sturdy defence should not be overlooked, with captain John Terry putting in a stunning performance to keep the Blues in the game.

Dalglish will be worrying about his future with the Reds, whilst Di Matteo will be over the moon with his team. Chelsea fans will be hoping that the Blues can ride their luck to Munich in the Champions League final, which will surely be the deciding factor in the Italian’s chances of landing the manager’s role on a permanent basis.

By Jacob Tucker

FA Cup semi-final against Everton key to Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool future

“Although we have won something today, that is not us finished. We don’t want to stop here, we want to keep going.” – Kenny Dalglish, speaking after Liverpool’s Carling Cup triumph over Cardiff City on 26th February.

It was the generic post-match sound-bite, conventional wisdom, almost, with one point that needed hammering home – to make sure fans knew that winning their first trophy for six years would not mean a slip back into the slumber for Liverpool Football Club.

Influential defenders Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger also chimed in with the official line and club captain Steven Gerrard added: “We won’t accept just this, we need more, we want more.”

However, since that victory at Wembley, the Reds have won just two of the eight league games played, with embarrassing reverses at the hands of QPR and Wigan Athletic. At the time of writing, the Reds sit eighth in the Premier League, 13 points behind fourth placed Tottenham and a point behind local rivals Everton.

So just why has LFC’s season unravelled?

Over £100 million has been spent on players who have so far, failed to live up to the expectations of playing for one of the biggest clubs in England. Players such as Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll (signed for a combined £71m) have flattered to deceive so far in their Anfield career and the jury is very much still out on all three north-east natives.

The departure of Damien Comolli this week, perhaps highlights the notion that all is not well in the corridors of power at Liverpool. Comolli’s sacking has been viewed by some, as an admission of fault on the transfer strategy by LFC owners Fenway Sports Group.

The clear blueprint of buying young British talent has so far yielded little; only Uruguayan international Luis Suarez, Spaniard Jose Enrique and the ageing Craig Bellamy have been unequivocal successes during the FSG reign.

Then there is manager Kenny Dalglish, who has come in for some criticism despite his legendary status at Anfield. The fans have reluctant to be overly critical of a man nicknamed ‘King’ but the Scot is not infallible and there have been groans of discontent aimed the manager from The Kop. The famous ‘Dalglish’ chant has been conspicuous by its absence in recent weeks.

Since the turn of the year, Liverpool’s form has dipped so dramatically that the only team with a worse points tally is bottom of the table Wolves, it is something that desperately needs addressing.

When the Reds overcame a spirited Cardiff at Wembley in February, there was still a realistic hope of securing a Champions League spot at the end of the season – something owner John W. Henry claimed would be a ‘major disappointment’ if they failed.

With just five games left to play, that coveted Champions League spot is far away in the distance, and the Reds have just the FA Cup to play for – they meet fierce rivals Everton at Wembley on Saturday.

If Dalglish wins a domestic cup double, it could hardly be considered a poor season for Liverpool. After all, teams with ambitions as lofty as Arsenal (and save for a remarkable finish to the Premier League, Manchester City) will finish the season without a trophy, but it is, and was Dalglish’s remit at the start of the season to finish in the top four.

Their season rests on the FA Cup. Win on Saturday; Dalglish has one last cup final to perhaps save his job. Lose – to their rivals – and finish below Everton in the Premier League, and Fenway Sports Group might be forced into action.

By Paul Gorst

Liverpool vs Everton: Merseyside bragging rights on the line in FA Cup semi-final

Merseyside rivals Liverpool and Everton go head-to-head on Saturday at Wembley in the FA Cup semi-final, in a massively important match for both sides. Kenny Dalglish will be eager to replicate the team’s heroics in the Carling Cup and draw attention away from under-par league form, whilst David Moyes knows that he is 180 minutes away from lifting his first trophy for the Goodison Park club.

Liverpool ended a terrible run of six defeats from seven games with a 3-2 victory over Blackburn on Tuesday night, with Andy Carroll heading the injury-time winner. Despite inconsistency in the league this campaign, the Reds have been more determined in the cup competitions, and have eliminated both Manchester clubs and Chelsea from the FA or Carling Cup this term.

Triumph in the Carling Cup has only papered over the cracks of a mediocre campaign for the Anfield outfit, with director of football Damien Comolli given the axe earlier in the week. King Kenny is now under pressure to deliver, and with ambitious American owners eager for success, a defeat to bitter rivals Everton would put a question mark over the Scottish manager’s future. With Liverpool also behind their cross-town neighbours in the Premier League standings, Reds fans are becoming impatient and frustrated.

Everton meanwhile have had a strong second half of the season, and David Moyes’ men have looked like a dangerous and difficult opponent since the turn of the year. The Toffees are up to seventh place in the league, and have beaten the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham over the last three months. Comprehensive victories over Sunderland both in the league and the last round of the cup will see Everton enter the fixture with confidence. However two derby defeats to Liverpool this term will stick in the memory, and spur Moyes’ men on.

A clever January transfer window has been a key factor in the club’s rejuvenation, with the additions of Steven Pienaar, Darron Gibson, temporarily Landon Donovan and especially Nikica Jelavic adding quality to an already able squad. The Croatian striker in particular has impressed, and the travelling Goodison Park fans will pray the ex-Rangers forward can inspire his team to victory on Saturday. Everton have not lifted a trophy since winning the FA Cup back in 1995, with a solitary Paul Rideout goal ensuring a 1-0 win over Manchester United.

A number of factors will be important in deciding the outcome of the fixture, with key personal battles all over the pitch. With Pepe Reina and Doni both unavailable, Brad Jones will start in goal for Liverpool, with their opponents sure to test the inexperienced stopper early on. The clash between England colleagues Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson could also play a part in the result, as both full-backs play an important role going forward for their sides.

In any Merseyside derby there will be passion, and the midfield battle between Steven Gerrard, Jay Spearing, Darron Gibson and Marouane Felliani will dictate possession. Finally, Luis Suarez and Nikica Jelavic will look to build on promising individual campaigns, and pose the biggest threat to goal.

Published – Soccerlens

England vs Bulgaria: Three Points A Must For Fabio Capello’s Men

England continue their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign this week with fixtures against Bulgaria and Wales promising to give the fans a better idea of the nation’s chances of competing in Poland and Ukraine next year. With Fabio Capello’s men locked at the top of Group G on 11 points with Montenegro and an away day in Podgorica still to come, the Three Lions can ill-afford many more slip-ups.

The Italian coach has selected a number of promising youngsters in his squad for the match in Sofia, and it will be interesting to see whether the likes of Manchester United pairing Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley are trusted to start the match. Chris Smalling has impressed the former Real Madrid coach thus far this term, and should also pick up his international debut at right back. With no Rio Ferdinand to call upon, it will be a toss up between Jones, Lescott and Cahill to who partners skipper John Terry in the heart of the English rearguard.

In attack Wayne Rooney will harbour the responsibility of getting the goals to win the match, and the United striker has started the season in blistering form, with a hat-trick against Arsenal last Sunday ensuring the 25-year-old goes into the game full of confidence. Darren Bent is an injury concern so Andy Carroll may accompany the former Everton man up front.

Bulgaria were put to the sword at Wembley in the return fixture back in September 2010, with Jermain Defoe scoring three in a comfortable 4-0 win. The away match will be no walk in the park however, as the luxury and familiarity of Wembley will be traded in for the hostility of the Stadion Vasil Levski.

The home side no longer have all-time top goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov to call upon, who quit the international set-up back in May 2010, but despite this Bulgaria will have some strong players on show come Friday. Stiliyan Petrov will be a familiar face for the away midfield, and the likes of Scott Parker or Gareth Barry will need to get close to the Aston Villa midfielder, who has the ability to shoot from distance or create chances for others. Former Manchester City forward Valeri Bojinov has not been selected in the squad, but Bolton’s Martin Petrov may feature.

The match will be given an extra bite by the fact that the home coach Lothar Matthaus has been vocal in the media this week and will motivate his players to get three points on Friday. The former Germany international got the better of England in his playing days, and will look to replicate this in his managerial tenure, despite the fact that Bulgaria are almost assured of missing out on Euro 2012.

A win would go far to alleviating fears of a do or die game in Montenegro next month, a draw is not ideal but would be acceptable and a loss would put the nation’s chances of competing in the European Championships in jeopardy. Expect a hostile reception from a passionate home faithful, and Bulgaria to come out of the blocks quickly, but if England can weather an early storm they should have the players and the experience to see them home.

Published – http://www.whoateallthepies.tv/opinion/85363/england-vs-bulgaria-three-points-a-must-for-fabio-capellos-men.html

What does 2011/12 hold for Daniel Sturridge?

So, if Jones is worth £16.5 million and Henderson £20 million, how much is Daniel Sturridge worth?

With the transfer window well and truly open, ’tis the season for ludicrous over payment. Phil Jones’ 37 senior side appearances for Blackburn and Jordan Henderson’s four Sunderland career goals gave the England under 21 internationals a combined value of £36.5million, which was happily paid by Manchester United and Liverpool. No doubt both players are talented and full of potential, but an overpayment none the less.

It is painfully clear that young English talent is much vaunted and that top flight clubs will pay top dollar to ascertain it. The transfers of Jones and Henderson will have been music to the ears of Everton boss David Moyes, who can now pick a number out of the air and slap it on Jack Rodwell’s forehead, for United and all other potential suitors to match if they want the 20-year-old’s services.

But what of their international compatriot Daniel Sturridge? The Chelsea frontman’s club future hangs in the balance, as after a successful loan spell with Bolton he has returned to Stamford Bridge in search of the big time. Realistically, as talented as the former Manchester City forward is (and he is), his chances of first team football are going to be extremely limited, just like before he went to the Reebok Stadium.

With Didier Drogba struggling to get a game due to Fernando Torres, Salomon Kalou and Nicolas Anelka, what chance does Sturridge have? Add to this the inevitable signings that Mr Abramovich and the eventual new coach will bring to the club, which will more than likely include more attacking talent from the four corners of the globe, and the English born youngster will once more be on the outskirts.

So what are his options? He could stay and fight for a first team spot, but this is a long, arduous and frustrating journey; young, talented players need regular first team football to evolve, and he risks his career going down the same path as Shaun Wright Phillips out of pure stubbornness. Another loan move looks likely, and Owen Coyle and every other manager outside of the top six will be holding their hands up shouting ‘pick me!’ in a schoolboy’s voice if Chelsea decide to go down this route. However, if Sturridge decides he wants to leave the London club and seek a new employer, the fee that Chelsea would likely charge is of real interest.

The Birmingham born forward exudes quality. He has represented England at youth level from under-16′s all the way up to his current participation in the under-21 Championships in Denmark. He scored eight goals in twelve games for a faltering Bolton side at the end of last season, and seemingly gets better with the more time he spends on the pitch.

Strikers generally command higher transfer fees than any other position, thus the criteria above would suggest that in today’s market he is worth more than Henderson, and more than £20 million. Andy Carroll is worth £35 million apparently, so £20 million+ seems about right. Chelsea would be increasingly reluctant to sell him to a top six side, in which case he is gazumped as none of the other teams have £20 million to throw about like the executives at Anfield and Old Trafford.

Daniel Sturridge will not and cannot leave Chelsea permanently this summer due to the ludicrous nature of the English transfer market currently, and instead of maturing into a player capable of being included in Fabio Capello’s 2012 European Championships squad, may face the prospect of heading the line for the Stamford Bridge reserve side in 2011/12.

Published – http://football-talk.co.uk/27923/what-does-201112-hold-for-daniel-sturridge/

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