Is there still a home for Andy Carroll at Upton Park?
West Ham United (9/1 for a top six finish in the Premier League) are about to be boosted by club record signing Andy Carroll’s return to training, with boss Sam Allardyce expecting him to be available for selection within the next “two to three weeks”.
Whilst reports of a £15m striker bolstering the squad would normally be greeted as good news, both Big Sam and Upton Park fans could be viewing Carroll’s recovery as a double-edged sword.
Memories of friction between Allardyce and the Boleyn Ground faithful have been slowly but surely banished, with the turbulent relationship mellowing in the face of West Ham’s recent fantastic form.
The goodwill surrounding the Hammers was capped with a magnificent home victory over Manchester City last time out, when Big Sam was literally showered with kisses for his part in the memorable win.
Allardyce’s savvy summer signings have so far paid dividends, with powerful Senegal striker Diafra Sakho scoring six in his last six appearances, to fire the Hammers to fourth in the Premier League.
Fellow forward Enner Valencia and ex-Arsenal anchorman Alex Song have also impressed immensely alongside a rejuvenated Stewart Downing, who supplies the guile.
Big Sam’s diamond formation has allowed for a tactical compromise, between the defensive-minded, set-piece favouring manager and the attack-craving support.
The likes of Morgan Amalfitano and Mark Noble are able to double up and support Song in the centre, providing Allardyce’s much-prized stability, but spread wide on the counter to aid flying full backs Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Cresswell.
This ability to switch from controlling the centre to exploiting width has seen the Hammers take 16 points from nine games, including clashes against Liverpool and City. Sakho and Valencia have been the main beneficiaries of a constant supply line, but have more than proved their own worth with energetic and hard-working team performances.
West Ham are now able to provide goals galore, without compromising results. Song and Sakho are excellent symbols of this two-way approach, grafting and pressing, whilst also providing a potent forward threat.
Where then does battering ram Carroll fit into this new, flexible system in which Sakho is the main man? It is up to the former Liverpool and Newcastle United striker to prove he can adapt and that he is more than a one-trick pony, but it is not the centre forward’s fault that he was recruited with a different style in mind.
When questioned over the former England star’s return, Allardyce’s response was telling. He said: “We’re hopefully going to get him back as quick as we can but we’re not going to rush him back because, touch wood, there’s no desperate need at the moment.”
That may have now changed, however, as an ill-timed shoulder injury to star man Sakho means he could miss up to a month. Still, with Valencia and Carlton Cole available, West Ham are seemingly in no “rush” to deploy their club record signing just yet.
Currently basking in the glow of “well done” texts from Jose Mourinho, and the adulation of Russell Brand, it is understandable that Big Sam will not want to face the selection headache of where to fit his unpopular target man.
Once a quintessential Allardyce signing, fringe man Carroll has struggled to make the impact his price tag demanded with just nine goals in 39 Premier League outings over his last two injury-riddled campaigns.
It appears Big Sam does not intend to part with his pet just yet, but Carroll remains an unfortunate reminder of friction with fans over playing style.
Big Sam has struggled to shrug off the tag of turgid football he has found success with over his career, but with West Ham’s full backs pumping in crosses for Sakho, Carroll could still be useful as part of this new approach.
Less mobile than his Senegalese counterpart, build-up play would surely suffer with Carroll leading the line. There would be no harm, however, in keeping the 25-year-old on the bench to provide a different option for tough games, and when in search of a last-ditch goal.
He is unlikely to have a starting spot whilst Sakho and Valenica are available, but man mountain Carroll can certainly still play an important role in the Hammers’ resurgence, with his unique physique and ability to terrorise defences with a rough and tumble style.