What will possibly become one of the most intriguing dilemmas that Roy Hodgson will face when it comes to his World Cup squad selection is who he will choose as his last choice of striker.
Jay Rodriguez has seen his hopes dashed by a long-term knee injury. Jermaine Defoe has fled to Canada, likely putting a stick in his spokes. So really, it comes down to Southampton’s Rickie Lambert, or West Ham’s Andy Carroll. It’s a toughie, but in my opinion, Carroll should get the nod.
Despite his recent indifferent form, Carroll is still causing his usual problems to Premiership defences. He never dodges a physical battle, and will throw his weight into every duel. It is this simple attribute alone which should edge Carroll ahead of Lambert.
It may not be very subtle, but if you need a drastic change in tactics, throw Andy Carroll onto the pitch and there you have a basic solution. Lambert, for all his better footballing credentials – his ability to drop deep, link-up with the midfield, his crisp first-touch, penalty record – won’t have the same kind of physical impact that Carroll can bring.
Carroll is excellent when it comes to bringing others into play. His ability to use his chest or his head to integrate others around him in the game is second to none. He is a nuisance in the box and he can trouble two or three defenders at the same time. He may seem a bit club-footed at times, lacking the technique and the quality when the ball is on the deck, but it’s doubtful that Hodgson will opt for Lambert or Carroll as a starting striker.
Also, he has only relatively recently returned from a long-term injury. When you’re out of action for the months that Carroll has been, it takes time to return to your usual self.
His poor showing against Arsenal shows that Premier League defences are becoming more accustomed to his, and West Ham’s tactics. Arsenal, a club famed for coming up short against a team that is more direct and physical, shackled Carroll exceptionally well. Arsene Wenger realised the key to stopping him was to prevent balls into dangerous areas, which Arsenal’s attacking players did a creditable job with. During the match Carroll lost nine aerial duels, totalling the second worst of his season so far to the 11 against Stoke.
Really, not an all too convincing a case for Carroll’s England spot really is it? No, but international defenders will very rarely come up against a man in the mould as extreme as Carroll. There are few strikers who can dominate their markers in the manner that Carroll does. His introduction against Italy at the 2012 European Championships changed the game. England suddenly had an out ball as Italy’s midfielders struggled to challenge with Carroll late in the game. And it is this kind of influence which makes his addition vital.
With the service that Leighton Baines, Steven Gerrard, and Wayne Rooney can deliver, good balls up to Carroll in dangerous areas won’t be in short supply. He may not be the most exotic option, and with all of England’s up and coming youngsters – who bring a bit more adventure to proceedings – Carroll may look out of place. But that is precisely why he needs to go. Nobody will be used to Andy Carroll, and if he is used in the dying minutes of a match, teams won’t get the chance to familiarise with him. His poor form is a worry, but it shouldn’t put Roy Hodgson off.