When Gareth Southgate announces his England squad for next month’s friendly with Germany and World Cup qualifier with Lithuania, he’ll have some difficult decisions to make.
Three Lions selections are always contentious with inevitable points of controversy, but a lot has changed at club level since England’s last outings in November and the old debate of continuity versus form will rear its head once again.
Whilst almost every department will come under the scrutiny of such discussion, it will be most prevalent amongst England’s strike-force. Many felt it was one of the strongest involved in Euro 2016 when Daniel Sturridge, Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford headed to France last summer and all retained their spots for the November qualifiers, but a few more months down the line and Kane is the only one to truly maintain his form from 2015/16.
Whereas Rooney’s form has been on the decline for some time, Vardy simply isn’t the same predator who fired Leicester City to last season’s Premier League title with deadly venom on the counter-attack, Rashford has made seven more starts as a winger than a central striker for Manchester United this season, scoring just six times across all competitions, and Sturridge has picked up just 543 minutes in the Premier League, netting only twice, as Jurgen Klopp continues to deem him ill-fitting of Liverpool’s new philosophy.
Inevitably, it seems Southgate will have to turn his attentions elsewhere in search of England’s firepower for the two meetings in March and The Daily Mail believe the Three Lions gaffer will consequentially be running the rule over West Ham’s Andy Carrol this Saturday, when West Brom make the trip to the London Stadium.
The towering striker hasn’t featured for England since 2012 – but the stats suggest he’s worth a recall amid England’s sudden wealth of out-of-form front-men.
The season started like many of Carroll’s since moving to East London in summer 2012; a decent showing on the opening day of the campaign in a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea, challenging the Blues’ backline almost single-handed, instantaneously followed by an injury that would keep him out of action until December.
But since returning towards the end of 2016, Carroll has enjoyed one of those spells that have defined his career as much as his many injury layoffs, where power and presence, combined with cute finishing, has rendered him almost unplayable for opposing defences. West Ham’s results are evidence enough. Since starting against Burnley midway through December, the Hammers have won seven of the nine Premier League games in which Carroll has started; before that, Slaven Bilic’s side had claimed just three top flight victories all season.
Of course, some would argue West Ham’s wayward results were linked with the absence of a natural striker and thus, Carroll has simply fallen into place at just the right time. But individually too, it’s been an impressive few weeks for the former Newcastle man, netting four times in his last four appearances – including a Goal of the Season contender that many are dubbing the best-executed bicycle kick in Premier League history.
Perhaps that’s generous, but the statistics are tough to argue with. In terms of per-ninety-minutes, Kane is the only English striker to rank higher than Carroll in the Premier League this term, whilst the likes of Sturridge, Rooney and Vardy are way below his 0.7 average – that’s despite Carroll producing less efforts at goal than Sturridge, Rooney and even Kane.
The other statistic that stands out is, inevitably, aerial duels won – undoubtedly Carroll’s defining strength, even if other aspects of his game deserve similar, if not equal, praise. Peter Crouch is the only English striker to rank better in this regard, although it’s worth pointing out that no Premier League player averages higher than Carroll per-match at a staggering 9.2.
Once again, Carroll’s tidy finishing proves he’s more than simply a modern-day Emile Heskey – a monolithic lump of brawn to stick the ball to, in the hope of creating some havoc in the final third. Likewise, only one of his Premier League goals this season have actually come via his head. Nonetheless, logic suggests that will be how he’s utilised by Southgate – an alternative option to give England a more direct and physical approach.
Yet, the stats once again work in Carroll’s favour. After four games in charge, it’s unclear what Southgate’s philosophy is or if he even has one. Thus far, we’ve seen quite simply four measured and balanced performances from England, with no real bias between attack and defence, wing or central play one way or the other.
And although they average significantly lesser than the Hammers in terms of long balls per match this season, 70 compared to 57, the Three Lions have still produced 18 crosses per match during Southgate’s short stint in charge. With five being accurate on average and dynamic full-backs Kyle Walker and Danny Rose in fantastic form, the stats suggest Carroll would get the right kind of supply to capitalise in the air – and England could really do with someone who can, winning just four headers in the opposition box throughout Southgate’s four-game reign.
However, there are alternatives for Southgate to consider. Jermain Defoe is continuing to demonstrate his pedigree, even in a rock-bottom Sunderland side at the age of 34, Peter Crouch is enjoying a renaissance after breaking into the Premier League’s 100-club – both have huge experience at international level – and Troy Deeney’s committed character and street-footballer style could appeal to Southgate.
Likewise, although he doesn’t feature in our infographic because he’s operated mainly as a winger this season, Arsenal’s Theo Walcott could also be an option, boasting 14 goals already this term.
But in terms of old-fashioned No.9s enjoying good form, who can offer something a little different, it’s hard to look past Carroll and his imposing 6 foot 4 frame, which could cause Lithuania all kinds of problems and give Southgate tactical variety upon facing Germany. So, do you think Carroll deserves a recall?