West Ham were the second busiest club in the transfer window, bringing in high calibre players such as Mohamed Diame, Alou Diarra and Yossi Benayoun. But the deadline day signing of Andy Carroll could prove to be one of the biggest coups in modern football and there were many sports betting sites paying out to punters upon his arrival.
The acquisition of Carroll wasn’t a desperate attempt to land a marquee signing – it was a calculated and intelligent move by Allardyce. His brand of direct football relies on a centre forward that has the physicality to dominate defenders, especially in the air, and there is arguably none better than Carroll.
Before Carroll’s arrival Carlton Cole was entrusted with this demanding role. His inconsistent performances have left doubts about his Premiership calibre, and a player that once graced the England team continues to struggle under Allardyce.
Cole enjoyed two successful seasons in the Premier League under Gianfranco Zola in 2008/09 and in 2009/10, proving he’s capable of performing at the top-level. So let’s take a closer look and investigate the differences between the two West Ham front men so we can examine why Carroll is doing so much better than Cole.
Square Pegs In Round Holes
Cole’s best season for West Ham was in 2008/09 under Zola. He started 26 games and made 1 appearance as a substitute. He scored 10 goals and made 3 assists, finishing the season as West Ham’s top scorer. Unlike Allardyce’s direct style, Zola’s philosophy was to keep the ball on the floor and play possession football. At 6ft 3in and powerfully built, it would be easy to think that Cole is a target man. He has the physique of a classic centre forward, but in truth, he struggles when given this role. His main strength lies in his feet and his ability on the floor – not in the air.
Cole was more successful under Zola because he was a manager that played to Cole’s strengths. He got the ball to Cole on the floor and made him more involved in the play. Under Zola in 2008/09 Cole averaged 51.4 touches per game. In 2012 under Allardyce he is averaging just 33.7.
Since arriving on loan, Carroll’s start for West Ham has been emphatic. He is yet to score his first goal but his contribution has been vital. Carroll seems a perfect fit for Allardyce’s West Ham and his direct football allows Carroll to make the most of his natural ability. Carroll is the definition of a traditional centre forward. He is tall, strong, adept at holding up play and his accuracy from aerial flicks is remarkable. Carroll and West Ham seems a perfect match, but this wasn’t the case with Carroll at Liverpool.
Liverpool didn’t play to Carroll’s strengths, especially under new manager Brendan Rodgers, and he struggled to find his form at Anfield. In his 44 games he only scored 6 goals. With a striker like Carroll it’s not just his goals that define him, it’s his aerial presence, his hold up play and the way he can terrorise even the biggest defenders. Unfortunately for him, Liverpool’s style of play doesn’t utilise any of these traits.
Cole Vs Carroll Analysis
Using EPL Index Opta Stats we can analyse Cole and Carroll’s performances this season. We’ll start by looking at how many games they’ve played and how much pitch time they’ve accumulated.
Cole’s extra minutes are because Carroll joined West Ham late and suffered a hamstring injury.
Here we will look at how many chances the players have created. Remembering that Cole has had over double the pitch time of Carroll.
This statistic is a great way to show how effective the strikers have been. Playing a lone striker, as West Ham do, their main responsibility is creating chances for their team mates. Whether this is by aerial flick ons or holding up the ball and playing in a team-mate, it’s clear to see that Carroll has been far more effective than Cole. Again this relates to what we were saying earlier, Carroll is a natural centre forward, a powerful target man that thrives off of direct play. Cole likes the ball played to his feet and struggles to be effective in this direct role.
It’s vital for a centre forward to be good in the air. Cole and Carroll are both 6ft 3in tall so it would be a safe to assume they are both good in the air. The statistics hold the answer.
Carroll is receiving a lot more aerial balls than Cole, and is still winning a higher percentage. The fact that Carroll can receive a long, direct pass every 3.38 minutes and win 65% of them means that West Ham can transition faster. They can get out of their half of the pitch and into the oppositions, turning defence into attack very quickly.
Another important skill a centre forward has to possess is good passing. Their main objective is to receive the ball, hold up play allowing their team mates to get into advanced positions, and find them with an accurate pass.
Carroll’s pass completion percentage is decent. Considering the amount of aerial duels that he wins (65%), he then goes on to find a team-mate 68.18% of the time. This is why West Ham pose more of an attacking threat when he plays as Cole manages to find a team-mate with less than half of his passes.
One more statistic I want to analyse is possession. This statistic ties in with the others we’ve looked at and is also a key factor for any centre forward playing in this kind of system. Below is a table showing how often, in minutes, each player gets dispossessed.
We can clearly see that Carroll loses possession much less than Cole. Cole still has a respectable average, getting dispossessed just under three times per game, but Carroll is remarkable. To play almost a whole game without getting dispossessed is incredible. This is another reason Allardyce, and West Ham, were so keen to get their hands on Carroll.
Allardyce needs a centre forward with Carroll’s ability to suit his style of management. Allardyce plays reactive, direct football which means utilising a powerful centre forward that is good in the air, a skilled passer and has the ability to hold up play anywhere on the pitch. This doesn’t mean that Cole is a poor striker, far from it, it just means that Carroll is better suited to the style of play that Allardyce employs. Cole is a square peg in a round hole under Allardyce. Much like Carroll was at Liverpool.
Carroll will continue to thrive under Allardyce, and Big Sam will be keen to sign him on a permanent deal at the end of the season. Cole will need to adapt his game and improve in the areas we’ve analysed if he wants to fight for his place.