Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Three things: Andy Carroll, Liverpool saviour?

Three talking points from the English Premier League this weekend:

Maybe Andy Carroll wasn't that bad after all

It's not Andy Carroll's fault that Liverpool paid ₤35 million for his services. Really, it's not. The kid made a great start to life in the Premier League at Newcastle, yet has been unable to convince on Merseyside, yet has to wear his massive sticker tag ever since. Amidst a lot of confusion, there have even been occasions where he's looked quite good – for Liverpool and for his country.

Andy Carroll was the Hummer in a garage that new manager Brendan Rodgers' wanted to stock with sports cars. The new boss made it eminently clear that England's most loveable lump didn't fit and hawked the lad all over the country; now Carroll finds himself fronting the West Ham forward line alongside old sparring partner Kevin Nolan.

How quickly fortunes turn. Carroll was outstanding in West Ham's 3-0 triumph over Fulham, while Rodgers is so desperate for strikers he has reportedly considered re-signing current outcast Michael Owen. Less than a week after sending Carroll on loan to East London, rumours have begun about him returning to Anfield in January – no matter how poorly Rodgers thinks the “fit” is.  Having only two strikers will change a manager's thinking, pronto.

The player is sure to be wanted, appreciated and more than just his price tag at the Boleyn Ground. He'll also receive service from (relatively) precise sources like Mark Noble and Matty Taylor. At Anfield, Andy Carroll will always be overshadowed by an eight-figure transfer fee – but it doesn't mean he's useless: big-ticket items can always be re-purposed if they fail to meet expectations.

West Bromwich Albion carry a big stick

The Baggies' claimed not only a win against Everton on Saturday, but with it the yoke of expectation that accompanies overachievers. Yet, when compared to the Toffees, WBA are playing exceedingly well despite a rookie manager tipped heavily to fail and a squad assembled for comparative peanuts. After long being the West Midlands' fourth – or fifth – club, West Brom seem now to be the region's best team.

Still, no-one is talking about them.

Since Roberto Di Matteo led them back to the Premiership in 2009, they've made budget signing after free transfer who have all had a great influence: Saturday's central midfield duo cost a combined ₤175,000 – 1/200th of Andy Carroll – while Peter Odemwingie cost a mere ₤1.5 million. No more do they rely on Nathan Ellington or the immortal Pedro Pele; recent reinforcements have all been quality, like Liam Ridgewell and Ben Foster. After being the Premier League's yo-yo team of the 2000s, West Brom seem now to have the talent and belieft to stay in the division.

The Baggies are playing with more freedom under Steve Clarke than former boss Roy Hodgson and could be the ever-present sneaky team that dares to creep into the table's top half.

Watch out for Zenit St. Petersburg

While most European transfer windows closed on Friday evening, Russian clubs still have another two days to reinforce their squads. Champions Zenit St. Petersburg have taken full advantage, signing Brazilian striker Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel from their Portuguese clubs for a combined ₤64 million.

The moves – and a Champions League group gutted by financial concerns – make the Russian Champions their group's hottest tip to make the elimination stages. With the squad at their disposal, Zenit may well be a good underdog bet to make even

The purchases also indicate a further shift in the financial balance of power away from it's traditional seat of England, Spain and Italy. The Russian league is helped immeasurably by this publicity: the purchases made by Zenit and Anzhi Makhachkala – who also dipped into the market – suggest the landscape has expanded to include more than the established Big Four leagues. This can only benefit players, who can attract cash and notoriety anywhere from Sydney to Seattle.

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