Brendan Rodgers may have said that Andy Carroll has “nothing to prove” to Liverpool, but it is unlikely that the West Ham striker feels the same way in regard to the Liverpool manager.
From the moment he took over at Anfield in the summer of 2012, Rodgers never hid the fact that he had doubts about the ability of the club’s £35 million record signing to adapt to his passing philosophy. Even in praising the striker this week ahead of his reunion with the striker on Sunday, Rodgers talked almost solely about Carroll’s ability in the air. There is a sense that Liverpool were delighted to recoup £15 million from West Ham, especially given Carroll’s continuing fitness issues.
It was also West Ham who proved willing takers for another Liverpool outcast in Stewart Downing. As with Carroll, Rodgers was open about his question marks over the player’s attributes. While Downing briefly played his way back into Rodgers’s team, he was discarded after just a single season. Combined, Liverpool lost £35 million on the pair, yet there are few observers who question their sales as opposed to the exorbitant fees which brought them to Anfield under the previous regime.
The pace and movement of Liverpool’s stunning attack is something to which Carroll and Downing simply could not have contributed. Not to mention the fact that the money recouped from Carroll’s sale was shrewdly invested by Rodgers in a forward far more fitting to his approach. That piece of transfer business has been vindicated and then some with Daniel Sturridge combining with Luis Suarez for an extraordinary 49 Premier League goals thus far this season.
Yet none of that means that Liverpool need not fear the threat their former duo poses to their Premier League title chances when Liverpool visit West Ham this weekend.
In contrast to Rodgers’s Liverpool, both Downing and Carroll fit perfectly into Sam Allardyce’s approach at Upton Park. A fine illustration of this point was provided in West Ham’s 2-1 win over Sunderland on Monday in a match that featured perhaps Carroll’s best performance since returning from injury. He scored the first goal from a corner when rising high above everyone at the back post to crash a header into the net and then created the second when using his height and strength to help a long ball down to Mohamed Diame to finish.
No side in the Premier League this season has hit a greater percentage of their passes long than West Ham, and only one team has averaged more crosses per game. Liverpool will be on the receiving end of an unashamed aerial assault on Sunday, with Downing the supplier to many and Carroll the primary target.
It will pose a major challenge to a Liverpool defense that has often struggled this season and have shown particular uncertainty from crosses. There is every possibility that West Ham will be able to exploit that weakness at Upton Park.
However, there is also every reason to believe that Liverpool will not be fazed if they do concede. In their incredible run of eight-straight wins that has taken them to the Premier League summit, Liverpool have twice conceded three goals and in another game conceded twice. Such is their thrilling threat going forward that against most teams they can get away with their defense being far from watertight.
The fact remains that Liverpool are simply a much better team than West Ham. With Suarez, Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson, it has to be excepted that Liverpool, unless eyes have already turned to next week’s title show down with Manchester City, will just have too many attacking weapons. While Downing and Carroll could wound their former club, the thrilling side that Rodgers has created in their absence have more than enough quality to strike back and then some.
Prediction: West Ham 1-3 Liverpool
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off at 11 a.m. ET. TV coverage will be provided by CNBC, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.