So far this season West Ham have taken the big sides by storm with four wins from four against Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea but they’ve also had some confusing losses to the likes of newly promoted sides Bournemouth and Watford. Not to belittle the performances of either side on the day but in the 4-3 loss to Bournemouth and the 2-0 loss to Watford, West Ham didn’t perform to half that of the standard that they have performed in some of their astounding victories this season. A lot of the goals conceded in these games were down to individual errors in key areas from an assortment of players; Cresswell, Jenkinson, Tomkins and Carroll are all culpable. However, against Watford, despite both goals coming as a direct result of a mistake, the team just wasn’t quite at the races. This is because Diafra Sakho wasn’t leading the line and £12.25m 2013 signing Andy Carroll was.
Andy Carroll is a very capable player and with the ball in the air, there are fewer better players in the Premier League and maybe even in the world but this is simultaneously his downfall in the case of West Ham United under Slaven Bilic. The team that has been performing so well in big matches has seen a vast majority of the goals scored come from midfield and this does not mean that Sakho, who has lead the line for most of the season so far, has not been performing quite as well, in fact, it means the opposite. Sakho’s pace and constant high work-rate means defenders always have to be on the half-turn and dropping in behind to keep Sakho under wraps; this then creates the space for West Ham’s creative and skillful players such as Payet, Lanzini and Moses to maneuver in front of the defense and create goal-scoring opportunities. On the other hand, Andy Carroll simply does not offer the same thing to the game. Carroll’s style is more to have his back to the defenders and be a target man for long balls up from defense for him to knock back or flick on. This means that defenders always know where he is and the space that Sakho would usually be creating between the oppositions’ defense and midfield is not being created and therefore, there is no room for West Ham’s midfield maestros to work their magic.
In order for West Ham to successfully utilise Carroll’s abilities at no.9, they must completely reform their system to work for Carroll. They must play to his strengths and play a 4-2-2 formation with a wide diamond so that he can flick it on to a supporting striker like Valencia or so that the ball can be pumped down the wings and crossed in for him. The other option is to play a 4-5-1/4-3-3 where the entire aim is to get as many crosses in as possible. Using him in the 4-2-3-1 high-tempo, counter-attacking system that has worked so well this season will not work.
In my opinion, Andy Carroll should be used as an impact substitute, an option to bring on when we cannot break through using our primary system. The other side of the coin is of course that he is a big money player on big wages, somewhere in the region of £100,000 a week, and that’s no money to pay someone to sit on the bench. However, the simple facts that Diafra Sakho has been part of a side that had only lost 2 games from 10 and that he was integral to the system that brought impressive wins against many of the Premier League’s big hitters solely outweigh anything that Andy Carroll can bring to the side.