Andy Carroll has enjoyed a successful return from injury after overcoming an ankle problem that kept him out of action since pre-season.
His presence in the West Ham side means that the team now play to his strengths, resulting in more long passes to target the big man up front. He has chipped in with three goals already, including a superb brace against Swansea City that really announced Carroll’s return to Premier League football.
Carroll’s consistent appearances since he became injury free offers Sam Allardyce another option in attack. However, upon his return, Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia both picked up injuries that allowed Carroll a free run in the team. Suddenly, the two strikers are finding it difficult to get back into the West Ham team now that Carroll has returned to 100% match fitness. Naturally, Carroll’s inclusion in the starting line-up means West Ham tend to look for more direct passes rather than working with the pace of both Sakho and Valencia.
The big Geordie does offer something completely different compared to the other strikers at the club, but many West Ham fans are questioning why they haven’t seen the very successful partnership of Sakho and Valencia since Carroll’s return. The two new strikers have not started a game together since West Ham’s number nine returned to the fold, as Andy Carroll is now firmly in the thoughts of the manager Sam Allardyce. Against Chelsea on Boxing Day, playing Andy Carroll was perhaps the wrong approach.
Carroll would receive the ball very high up the pitch and his lack of pace and movement in that particular area of the field made it very easy for Chelsea to defend against. When Valencia partnered Sakho up front in the second half at Stamford Bridge, the Hammers created more chances by using the pace and movement of their front two.
The same problem applies with their defeat to Arsenal on Sunday. Although West Ham played well, they were very too predictable at times. Too many floated balls aimed towards Carroll ended up in the arms of Wojciech Szczesny. Some fans voiced their frustration when Sakho was replaced by Valencia, as it meant that West Ham would not resort to a ‘plan B’ for the rest of the game. Instead, Valencia was pushed out wide into a position that he is not overly comfortable with and West Ham continued to play through Andy Carroll, which didn’t work.
When the West Ham team play with Carroll from the off, they always look for him. This obviously sacrifices some of the build-up play that West Ham were being commended for earlier in the season. Against Arsenal, Alex Song looked frustrated as the centre-backs would look to go long rather than play the ball to his feet. With Sakho and Valencia in the side instead of Carroll, it might have been a different playing style.
Time will tell whether Andy Carroll is a better option instead of Sakho and Valencia. But there is a feeling around Upton Park that West Ham are returning very quickly to the one dimensional football they played last season. The lack of goals from both Valencia and Sakho coincides with Andy Carroll’s return, which suggests that in order to get the best out of one strike force, the other has to be left in the cold.
January could cause a few problems for West Ham, especially in terms of the football they play. Diafra Sakho will leave club duty to represent Senegal at the African Cup of Nations. This leaves Enner Valencia, Carlton Cole and Andy Carroll as the strikers West Ham will look to in January. If any of these players get injured, it may result in Sam Allardyce resorting back to one up front, a formation that many West Ham fans have grown to despise under their manager.
Many presumed that January would be the opportunity for the talented Mauro Zarate to step up and make a difference. But he has been loaned out to Queens Park Rangers, leaving many West Ham fans confused. With the absence of both Sakho and Zarate in January, West Ham fans will be worried about their over-reliance on Andy Carroll and, most of all, an alteration in style that could leave Hammers fans reminiscing about the ugly football played at the start of the season.