Before the recent Arsenal match, in what has become one of our more heavily read posts, we ran a comparison of Demba Ba, Robin Van Persie and Andy Carroll concluding that Carroll has never been as good at converting chances as shot-making savants like Van Persie and Ba, and he's been hurt additionally at Liverpool by an offense that's built to create lots of chances but not necessarily good ones. Since then I've noticed Newcastle fans tend to fall into two camps on what's happened to Carroll at Liverpool: those who think Carroll is the problem, and those who think Liverpool is the problem. With Carroll's return in red to St. James' Park approaching, the last couple of days I've dug a bit deeper in an effort to see if one camp has a stronger case than the other.
On the side of those who think the team is the problem, the frequency of Carroll's touches, shots and chances have all declined precipitously at Liverpool. When Carroll is in for Liverpool, he's waiting about 20 extra seconds of play for every touch, more than 6 extra minutes for every shot, and nearly 70 extra minutes for every clear-cut chance, defined by Opta as "a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one-on-one scenario or from very close range." Some of this could be down to the player, but the drop seems too steep not to be at least partly a function of the team and the structure of its play. One might argue Carroll doesn't have as much of the spotlight on a more star-filled club. One might argue back that it's silly to spend £35 million on a striker without making him a centerpiece.
There's also support, though, on the side of those who think Carroll is the problem, that his play has simply dropped off for whatever reason since leaving United. Though Carroll is getting fewer shots at Liverpool, he's getting about the same number of shots inside the box - most of the decline is in longer shots. And of the clear-cut chances Carroll is getting at Liverpool, he's converting a jaw-droppingly low 15 percent, after netting 35 percent at Newcastle. Interestingly, 35 percent is about the league average for converting clear-cut chances – more evidence that Carroll, as a pure shot-maker, has never been in the elite class. At 15 percent he’s near the bottom of the league when presented with an easy scoring chance. In my years following and reporting sports, I’ve learned that when players begin messing up the easier tasks, that’s usually mental, the result of pressure. Which is what a player signs up for when he leaves the relative comfort of home for world-class money and expectations.
So who’s right, those who think Liverpool is hurting Carroll, or Carroll is hurting himself? Everyone is right. There’s little doubt Liverpool could be giving better service to its leading Geordie. There’s also little doubt something bad is going on when someone with Carroll’s skills is beating a lone defender or keeper only 15 percent of the time. It stands to reason neither team nor player is completely to blame. After all, soccer is a team sport – maybe the quintessential team sport – and very little happens in an individual vacuum. Or, to put it as a Liverpool fan might: You never suck alone.