Carroll starts as Reds bid to end the year at Anfield with a win
CRAIG BELLAMY and Jose Enrique start tonight for Liverpool against their former club but all eyes will be on Andy Carroll as Newcastle visit Anfield – especially the eyes of the usual snipers. Luis Suarez is unavailable after his gesture to snipers of a different kind at Fulham didn’t go down too well, the resulting one-game ban setting the scene for Carroll to show why Liverpool paid so much for him – or to give the snipers an easy target.
Although Carroll only celebrates his 23rd birthday next week the £35m fee Liverpool splashed out on him makes the target so big for those snipers that they won’t even have to look properly, if at all, as they take aim. The relative youth of the player means nothing to those who were waiting for a stick to beat the manager with, those who judge their own team’s managers and players in the sort of extremes of black and white otherwise only seen at Anfield when Newcastle are the opponents and wearing their traditional shirts. And Big Andy Carroll was a big stick to beat Kenny Dalglish with.
Ifs and buts are rarely worth dwelling on too long but if Liverpool had kept Torres 11 months ago and if he’d spent the rest of the year performing as well as he actually did at Chelsea it’s hard to imagine anyone paying anywhere near the £50m Roman Abramovich did. It would be a surprise if Torres ever commanded a fee close to £20m again, let alone £50m, and if Carroll does, eventually, leave Anfield by some form of mutual consent then any fee over £5m would essentially mean the Reds hadn’t really lost out financially. And no matter how much he struggles at Anfield, it would still be a surprise for him to leave for such a paltry sum.
None of this means a great deal to the snipers of course – Carroll bad because Carroll fee big. Kenny bad for paying big Carroll fee. Sniper must snipe. It really is (and they really are) that simple.
The snipers from outside the club, and outside the support base, don’t really matter. And not all Reds who are critical of or worried about Andy Carroll are doing it to undermine another Liverpool manager. The usual snipers are those who only rested their rifles for Roy Hodgson, the ones who in many cases probably can’t actually remember a Liverpool manager they were happy with. The ones who only really get behind a player after he leaves the club, or as they put it after he’s been “forced out”.
For the majority of Liverpool supporters there will be unbridled joy if Andy Carroll shoves whatever taunts his old fans from the Toon Army throw at him by scoring the winner and a couple more on top. If it’s set up by another of Liverpool’s player with North East connections, like Jordan Henderson or Stewart Downing, the snipers will be silenced and the fans will be delighted.
There are worries for fans about how Liverpool’s progress seems to be held back by an inability to convert chances into goals. Knowing the club has hit the woodwork more than any other side so far this season and recalling how many good performances opposing keepers have put in is encouraging – but only to a point. Frustration is starting to creep in and sooner or later something has to be done to find a way to stop the woodwork and goalkeepers from being such a big part of the conversation in the pub after the match.
Carroll starting with Suarez means the Reds might play things a little differently but as much as the scene is set for Carroll to be the one most mentioned in the conversations around town tonight after the match the star of the show could just as easily be Charlie Adam (on the wrong end of some unnecessary abuse, along with his family, from the hardmen of the social networks) or Jay Spearing, back in the side after a three-game ban and ready to try again to take his chance. On the bench, breathing down their and many other players’ necks, is the captain, Steven Gerrard.
Liverpool aren’t going to go into this game thinking it’s already won though and Kenny will be wary of the threat of one of the few other clubs he’s spent time at during his long career. Newcastle would leapfrog Liverpool in the table if they won tonight and Liverpool must not go into this game assuming it’s a formality.
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Adam, Spearing, Henderson, Downing, Bellamy Carroll.
Subs: Doni, Maxi, Kuyt, Gerrard, Carragher, Shelvey, Kelly.
Newcastle: Krul, Coloccini, Simpson, Williamson, R Taylor, Cabaye, Gutierrez, Tiote, Obertan, Vuckic, Ba.
Subs: Elliot, Santon, Perch, Ben Arfa, Best, Sh Ameobi, Sa Ameobi
Referee: Lee Probert