Sunday 18 February 2018

Dalglish struggling to fit Carroll into Reds' blueprint


Three games, three shades of red. Kenny Dalglish enters the international break with the first skirmishes of the season behind him and with much to ponder.

That he does so with a revitalised Liverpool breathing hot on the necks of the Premier League's leaders means a club used to contemplating the existential can consider issues rather more aesthetic.

The biggest of those issues, metaphorically and physically, spent 77 minutes seated behind Dalglish on the Anfield bench. The Scot must work out how to solve the Andy Carroll quandary.

The striker, all £35m of him, had started both Liverpool's draw with Sunderland and the victory at Arsenal, first alongside Luis Suarez and then alongside Dirk Kuyt. Here, it was his turn to miss out. Of all three combinations, it is hard not to argue that Suarez and Kuyt worked best.


The Uruguayan and Dutchman provide endless intensity, affording a side built to Dalglish's energetic, pressing specifications the sharpest of edges.

Both were involved in Jordan Henderson's opener, Suarez playing the most sumptuous pass of the season thus far, Kuyt scrapping and scrabbling to tee up the midfielder.

Suarez won the corner which led to their second, from Martin Skrtel, while the pair's running dragged Bolton's defence apart to grant Charlie Adam the chance to kill the game off.

Both, indeed, might have scored themselves: Suarez had three gilt-edged opportunities -- the best of them a chip which landed on the roof of the Anfield Road end net -- and the industrious Kuyt one.

The contrast with Owen Coyle's side's last visit, when only a late Joe Cole winner -- "an offside winner" to quote the Bolton manager -- salvaged a victory, granting the doomed Roy Hodgson the most temporary of reprieves, was stark.

"If you want to compare Liverpool today with back then, they look a very good side," said Coyle, Ivan Klasnic's late strike offering little consolation. "They can score goals. Having said that, if you gave me £110m I am sure I would have a team that look dangerous every time they walk on the park."

Coyle may soon have money -- he insists he "will not buckle" on his valuation of Gary Cahill, a target for Arsenal -- but he knows there is more to building teams than finance.

There is philosophy and thought and vision. Dalglish's is not a revolution so much as a restoration and it seems Suarez and Kuyt are at the vanguard, in more ways than one.

As the Uruguayan was replaced by Carroll, Dalglish's old No 7 shirt granted its now customary deafening ovation, the Scot must have wondered, and feared, that he had hit upon his winning formula.

Kuyt and Suarez certainly seem most suited to what he is trying to achieve; that much was clear even last season. They offer the movement, the versatility and the remorselessness Dalglish demands.

"The way he wants us to play is pass and move and with a high tempo," said Daniel Agger, no less a spectator than the 45,000 inside Anfield for vast swathes of the game. "It is not just one thing, it is a combination -- a strong squad, a good manager, good coaches around him.

"You saw that there was some quality passing in the team now, we are playing it on the ground, and that is what people like to see.

"Results are the most important thing but if you can get them playing like this, that is a bonus."

The issue for Dalglish, of course, is that such a style seems to flow more naturally with Suarez and Kuyt on the pitch and Carroll on the bench.

It is a problem Dalglish will welcome -- being forced to find a way to accommodate an England international is the sort of issue managers generally enjoy -- but it is one that will offer him no little trouble too.

The issue is not with Carroll himself, but more his consequences. The 22-year-old's presence inspires Liverpool to adopt a more agrarian philosophy, one they are ill-suited to and one which does not, in truth, elicit the best from the striker.

Against Sunderland and Arsenal, Carroll has appeared isolated, instructed to challenge for aerial balls with little cohesive support for his knock-downs and lay-offs.

That is the challenge facing Dalglish. His outlay on Carroll now totals £66m, such has been the cost of the striker himself, Stewart Downing and Jose Enrique to provide the requisite width and Adam to create the space.

This is a side built for Carroll. The irony is that it does not appear to need him in it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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