How do West Ham solve a problem like no Andy Carroll?
08:50 14 August 2014
2014 Getty Images
Here we go again! Hammers boss must deal with striker problem better than he did last season
West Ham boss Sam Allardyce faces exactly the same problem he had to deal with this time last season – he has to select his team without star striker Andy Carroll.
How he deals with it this time round is likely to define the team’s Premier League season as well as his own future in the Upton Park hot-seat, because he simply cannot afford to make the same mistake he did last year.
Allardyce’s great plan in August 2013 was to simply substitute another striker into that Carroll role.
Modibo Maiga was drafted in as the lone striker and proved once and for all that he is not capable of playing in that way. In 19 appearances, he scored just two goals before his campaign in claret and blue ended with the 5-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest and the 6-0 hammering by Manchester City. He was then shipped out to QPR, where he also failed to impress.
It was clear from the first couple of games that Maiga was not suited to the role. West Ham had a fairly soft run of early-season fixtures, but in the opening 11 games, they had managed just nine goals and much of that was down to the tactics that Allardyce adopted.
Mladen Petric was also given the role on a couple of occasions, with limited effect, before the Croatian simply disappeared with a calf injury that never healed.
To be fair, Allardyce did change his tactics. But only to introduce the famous “false nine” formation!
Whatever you want to call it, the tactic worked a treat at White Hart Lane where Spurs were caught completely by surprise and a magnificent 3-0 victory ensued, but the joy didn’t last long as opposition teams soon worked it out.
A goalless draw at Swansea should have been a win, and to play the false nine at home to Aston Villa and away at struggling Norwich City was ridiculously negative and plunged West Ham deeper into trouble.
So now Allardyce has to look to solve the problem of a Carroll-free line-up once again and you can’t help but fear that he will try to do exactly the same again.
Before Saturday’s clash with Sampdoria, the manager had been content to play either Carlton Cole, Ricardo Vaz Te or even pint-sized Mauro Zarate up front on their own, ending in inevitable defeats.
Enner Valencia, when he is fit, may well come in to play that role, but he will take time to find his feet in the Premier League and to find his match fitness, and it sounds like a recipe for disaster.
The only way to replace Carroll is by using two strikers, maybe Valencia or Cole and Zarate. Ricardo Vaz Te deserves a go, as does the patient Elliot Lee.
We all know that West Ham have a solid defence, but unless they have the firepower at the other end to score the goals, we will be faced with exactly the same scenario as last season.
Perhaps against the Italians on Saturday we saw the first signs of a new attacking West Ham as ordered by the co-chairmen for this season.
Three at the back from the start was one of the themes of the World Cup so maybe it will become the fashion of the Premier League this season. If so, the Hammers certainly have three very capable centre backs to fulfil that remit.
But it is still at the other end where the work needs to be done. They may have hinted at two up front on Saturday with Cole and Zarate, but to many it looked very similar to last season with Zarate playing in the Kevin Nolan role.
It seems clear that replacing Carroll is a two-man job, but whether Allardyce agrees remains to be seen.