Monday nightÃ¢ÂÂs fixture between West Ham United and Stoke City will be a clash of two managers renowned for favouring long ball football; Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis. ItÃ¢ÂÂs unlikely to be a beauty contest, but it should provide entertainment.
Both managers have used a lone striker this season - Allardyce has generally played that way throughout his time in the Premier League, while Pulis has this season pushed Jon Walters wide in order to accommodate Charlie Adam in the centre of midfield. That means weÃ¢ÂÂre set for an interesting meeting between Andy Carroll and Peter Crouch at either end of the pitch.
The two ex-Liverpool forwards are often seen as figures of fun in English football, yet both have been valued highly at club and international level. Carroll was a ÃÂ£35 million player less than two years ago, while CrouchÃ¢ÂÂs cumulative transfer fees add up to over ÃÂ£51 million. Carroll scored a crucial headed goal for England against Sweden at Euro 2012, while Crouch nodded in against Trinidad and Tobago back at World Cup 2006 Ã¢ÂÂ both have delivered on the highest stage.
The pair have played three corresponding fixtures so far this season. Both have faced Manchester City at home, and in these fixtures, the contrast between their passes received is interesting Ã¢ÂÂ Carroll collects plenty of long goal-kicks, while CrouchÃ¢ÂÂs service is more varied.
TheyÃ¢ÂÂve also both faced Arsenal at home. In these matches, thereÃ¢ÂÂs a different pattern in their aerial duels Ã¢ÂÂ Crouch wins a higher proportion of these clashes, although both win the majority. More interesting than the success rate, however, is the positions they occur in. Carroll is generally fighting for the ball in the penalty area, because West Ham work the ball forward into attacking positions before attempting to find him, while CrouchÃ¢ÂÂs work is in deeper zones as Stoke try to hit him directly from the defence. He almost always challenges in the air towards the right of the pitch, probably because thatÃ¢ÂÂs where Walters, the closest support to Crouch, is located.
Another interesting comparison is their pass completion rate, illustrated by their respective performances in their away trips to Wigan. Carroll finds teammates more reliably, and gets through more work in deeper positions, while CrouchÃ¢ÂÂs actions are, again, focused towards the right.
Both are consistently unsuccessful with Ã¢ÂÂpassesÃ¢ÂÂ close to the edge of the Ã¢ÂÂDÃ¢ÂÂ, although in reality these are often flick-ons and knock-downs rather than proper passes, so itÃ¢ÂÂs understandable that so many are wayward.
Both are generally categorised as basic target men, something both players would probably disagree with, preferring to think of themselves as all-rounders. Perhaps, as Premier League tactics have increasingly moved towards ball retention and clever movement upfront, it was inevitable these two would end up playing for their current managers, but itÃ¢ÂÂs nevertheless slightly sad theyÃ¢ÂÂve been reduced to pure flick-on merchants. Crouch, in particular, has always been keen to point out his technical ability and skill on the ground Ã¢ÂÂ at Stoke, he rarely gets the chance to showcase those skills.
As it happens, the duoÃ¢ÂÂs main impact upon this game might be in terms of winning Ã¢ÂÂ or conceding Ã¢ÂÂ free-kicks. ItÃ¢ÂÂs likely to be a scrappy game with a large emphasis upon set-pieces, and getting the better of the opposition centre-backs when challenging for high balls will be crucial. Both concede, on average, two fouls per match this season, but while Crouch wins one free-kick per game, Carroll wins 2.6.
In matches like these, a free-kick won in a dangerous zone is often more useful than a successful flick-on Ã¢ÂÂ which perhaps says much about the type of football likely to be on show.
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