Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Swansea's inability to deal with Carroll could actually be a positive

Andy Carroll scored twice and grabbed an assist on Sunday, but it was far from the first time he's caused Swansea problems

Andy Carroll celebrates his second goal against Swansea on Sunday

West Ham, for all their more-forward-thinking football this year, had one weapon which was obviously going to be key in deciding the outcome of the match last weekend. Namely, one Andy Carroll. So much so, in fact, that I have spent ages trying to make a headline out of "AC Maligned" (or something similar), before ultimately deciding a much better use of time would be to try and figure out just why he caused us so many problems, and what we could do to avoid a repeat in the future.

Prior to the match at the Boleyn Ground, I wrote about how we should stand off Carroll, and not allow ourselves to challenge for balls which the England striker was always going to win. Did we do that? I can't say I remember it happening - apart from in one instance where, for some reason, we decided to let him roam completely free to head home a corner. In general though we challenged him for the ball, and the chaos this caused in our backline was the major deciding factor in determining the outcome of the match.

Here's some highlights to refresh your memory:

Bony's finish was class wasn't it? This, sadly, isn't about our striker's finishing prowess though. Let's look at West Ham's goals. 

Goal 1 - Andy Carroll header from open play

A Carl Jenkinson cross, an Andy Carroll header...the only things that would seem more predictable are a Carroll header from a Downing cross/corner, and a goal from a Carroll flick-on. Thankfully we weren't disappointed, and get to discuss those later.

The main thing I'd pick up on from this goal is that Ki turned off, leaving Carroll to have a free run at the ball. Whether he was supposed to track Carroll that deep I can't say, and it would perhaps have been better to see him passed on to a centre-back who would come to meet the ball, but the complete lack of a challenge on him is very worrying. It was a great header, but we made it way, way too easy for him.

Goal 2 - Andy Caroll header from a corner

This one was even worse. From a corner, Andy Carroll hangs back before making a late(ish) run, and from footage it appears Rangel was the player tasked with marking him. Why is Rangel marking Carroll? I can't think of any reason why that would be the case - even if Rangel is an excellent header of the ball one of Bartley, Williams or Bony is clearly a better option to be marking the big striker, so to me that is a massive mistake. 

The fact that Rangel seems to have had a brain fart whilst tracking Carroll is almost inconsequential to me - if Carroll gets his run right you'd always expect him to overpower Rangel aerially, so again, why was he in charge of marking him? If Rangel, or anyone else for that matter, decided on the pitch it was his job to mark him from that corner, I think that's worrying. If it's something we planned throughout the week, I'd find that even more worrying! It seems so obvious to me that Bartley, Ash or Wilf should have been charged with marking Carroll, that I can't fathom how it ended up with the Spaniard marking him. Perhaps best to move on then.

Goal 3 - Sakho goal from a Carroll flick-on

We were down to ten men when this goal occurred, so I'm not as concerned about this goal as I am the others, but there's still questions to be asked. Ki - who had been excellent aerially against Palace & QPR - went to challenge Carroll, and with one flick of his ponytailed head Sakho was able to burst through to finish emphatically. 

Rangel had left the field at this point to be replaced by Dyer, so we only had three defenders on the field, but it still seems poor that one flick was able to split our defence. If the defensive midfielder is challenging for the ball, surely the defence should drop off, so if there is a flick on, you're not caught out - as Ash was for this goal. Caught higher than Jazz & Bartley, Sakho was able to exploit this gap and burst through to score.

Now for the good news. It doesn't really matter that much. How many teams have strikers with the physical attributes that Carroll possesses? What's more, how many teams have the ability to operate in a way which maximises his effectiveness? Not many. In recent weeks we've had QPR & Leicester visit the Liberty - both sides who are more "direct" than most in the Premier League - and we dealt with the threats they offered excellently, keeping clean sheets in both games. 

That being said, I did find it very disappointing that we failed to deal with Andy Carroll from start to finish. It was so obvious they would look to utilise his aerial ability; that we gifted him two completely free headers - and got caught out with a flick on - indicates to me that there is still lots of room for improvement, and that we can still become a much better unit defensively.

Considering how well we've been playing this season, that, to me, is a massive positive.