By Wayne Veysey at Craven Cottage
However much Liverpool close ranks, protect him and dispense fresh opportunities, the Andy Carroll conundrum will not go away.
How best to fit the giant No.9 into a starting XI that almost always looks more dynamic and threatening when he is not there?
Not that Carroll had an abject display on the banks of the River Thames as the winter chill really began to bite. He was just lukewarm, as he so often is.
There were some light touches, reasonable link-up play and his penalty box presence caused the occasional anxious moment for Fulham’s defence.
But this was not enough to justify his selection ahead of the tenacious Dirk Kuyt or west London specialist Maxi Rodriguez, scorer of a hat-trick at Craven Cottage in April and two goals in nine days at Stamford Bridge.
As for evidence that Carroll is beginning to establish a sound relationship, never mind some kind of rapport, with Luis Suarez, it would need the combined detective powers of Poirot, Frost and Morse to discover it.
The encouraging signs that Carroll showed when he led the line in classic targetman style only six days previously against Chelsea in the League Cup were not replicated here against two raw-boned centre-backs in Brede Hangeland and Philippe Senderos who prefer to deal with height and muscle rather than nimble feet and quick runners.
This is the problem for Kenny Dalglish and his coaching staff as they assess how best to integrate the club record signing into the team. The story of Carroll’s Liverpool career is that of a player who takes one step forward, a couple back, does a few sideways shuffles and then starts all over again, often with an injury thrown in for good measure.
It is not Carroll’s fault alone that 14 league games have yielded just 17 goals for Liverpool this season, the third lowest in the club’s Premier League history at this stage (the figures were 15 in 2006/07 and 16 last season). Nor is this statistic a reflection of the fluency of much of the team’s play.
Red alert | Suarez and Carroll have struggled to establish a successful partnership
Yet for all the brilliance of Suarez and the outright panic he induces in defences, he is not a penalty box predator in the mould of, say, Robbie Fowler, Ian Rush or Michael Owen. Likewise, Craig Bellamy, who also showed only flashes of his nuisance value on Monday night, is as much creator as finisher.
Liverpool’s second leading league scorer this season after Suarez (four) are Carroll, Charlie Adam and own goals (two). Kuyt and Stewart Downing have yet to get off the mark while Maxi Rodriguez, one of the most intelligent midfielders at the club, does not seem to have the trust of his manager. One start and one substitute appearance in the league is scant opportunity for the Argentine who often hits the target.
By contrast, Carroll has been fully involved, with seven starts supplemented by five substitute appearances. Worryingly, his presence has the unhappy knack of diluting the threat of dangerman-in-chief Suarez.
In theory, the big man, little man partnership should work a treat, especially given Suarez’s skill in winning advantages in small spaces.
"Suarez has been more effective as the spearhead, dovetailing with nimble-footed forwards like Bellamy & Kuyt"
But in practice it has not been like that, neither this season or last. The Uruguayan wizard has been more effective as the spearhead, dovetailing with quick-thinking and nimble-footed forwards like Bellamy and Kuyt. How Dalglish would love him to operate for a lengthy period of time with one-man whirlwind Steven Gerrard, who has started only two matches for the club this season.
Suarez also has problems of his own at the moment. His reputation as a player who seeks to maximise any contact or challenges is well established in English football, much like Cristiano Ronaldo in his early days at Manchester United.
Match officials are starting to treat him differently, as are opposition fans. At Craven Cottage, the forward was jeered and called a ‘cheat’ by the Fulham supporters every time he went to ground, even when it was perfectly legitimate.
As the first anniversary of Carroll’s £35million switch from Newcastle United approaches Carroll is no closer to repaying the faith of his employers. The puzzle needs an answer.Follow Wayne Veysey on
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