Time for under-fire Carroll to silence Anfield doubters
Andy Carroll will step out at the Britannia Stadium tonight knowing the payback date on his £35m transfer fee is already overdue. Liverpool's Carling Cup tie at Stoke offers another opportunity for the striker to silence the mumblings about how sustainable his present plight at Anfield is.
The centre-forward hoped a crucial goal in the Merseyside derby would create the momentum for a more successful run in the side. Instead, he was back on the bench for the last two fixtures against Manchester United and Norwich, with doubts resurfacing as to when his toils would end.
The fitness issues that plagued him last season, allied to his struggles gelling into a fluid, attacking style of football, have created a constant dilemma for Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish about how best to utilise the forward's abilities.
In theory, the gladiatorial challenge of facing Stoke, where Carroll is expected to lead the forward line tonight, should be ideal for the 22- year-old to display the power and aerial prowess that made him such an exciting prospect at Newcastle.
He has struggled to display the same attributes in Liverpool red, his recurring problems identifiable from the moment he arrived on deadline day last January. Carroll arrived injured, prompting numerous reminders he was 'bought for six years, not six months', but a summer of rest and rehabilitation has not led to the demonstrable improvement people at Anfield sought.
Without those required energy levels, Dalglish has little option but to be cautious about which games he should start. When Carroll does not feature, his fitness levels deteriorate further. He is evidently a player who needs consistent games and intensive training to retain any shape.
The time for Carroll to become the talismanic presence Liverpool expected has come, but if tonight's fourth- round tie is crucial to him, it is no less so for Liverpool who, in the absence of Europe, have taken the Carling Cup much more seriously this season.
Nobody craves a victory more than Dirk Kuyt, as he seeks to avoid an unwanted record. Should he endure another season without silverware, Kuyt will become the longest-serving Liverpool player in 40 years to have never won a trophy at the club. Kuyt joined in the summer of 2006, just after the club lifted the FA Cup.
"In all my time as a Liverpool player I have been close to winning trophies," he said. "There was the Champions League final, the semi-final and coming second in the Premier League. But it is now time to get silverware.
"Not being involved in Europe is a major blow to the club, so the Carling Cup is a great trophy to win because we're all desperate to win something."
Liverpool have already lost away at Stoke this season and their recent record at the Britannia is poor. "We're not the only team that struggles there," Kuyt said. "It is because they are such a strong, physical team. There are lots of long balls and second balls, and good throw-ins from which they score a lot of goals. It makes it one of the most difficult games in the league. They are very strong, but we can be a strong, physical team as well." (© Daily Telegraph, London)