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Jan 20, 2012

Time for Carroll to step up

ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan is one of English football's most respected figures and he will be writing for ESPNsoccernet throughout the season. As a player, Kevin represented Liverpool with distinction, winning numerous titles in domestic and European football, and twice claiming the Ballon d'Or during his time at Hamburg. Kevin has also managed England, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Fulham.

Liverpool have been without Luis Suarez for their last five games and, though they have managed to win three of those, they just aren't the same team without him. Their sixth Suarez-less match is at Bolton this weekend and it should be an intriguing game for us to have on ESPN.

Suarez has been three quarters of the team this season. Every time we've covered Liverpool and just about every other time I've seen them, he has comfortably been their best player, often opening up an opportunity out of nothing and winning them games on his own.

A few months ago we were asking, "what will they be like without Suarez?" and now we're finding out the answer: pretty ordinary. When his name isn't on the team-sheet, it's bound to give the opposition a boost. If you're in the opposing dressing-room and find out Rooney's missing for Manchester United or Van Persie's not in the Arsenal team, you'll naturally have more belief; I'm sure Bolton will feel more confident against a Liverpool team without Suarez on Saturday.

There are plenty of other talented players for Kenny Dalglish to call on, and because Suarez's ban is so long there are still opportunities for others to come in and stake a claim. You're looking for someone like Andy Carroll to take the chance to step up. He has mainly been used as an impact sub by Kenny and there's no doubt in my mind that if Suarez were available on Saturday, Andy would be straight back on the bench. He needs to start producing if he wants to become a regular.

The problem is that he's a decent player but he's not a £35 million player. If you're paying £35 million you should be getting an instant, ready-made, world-class guy. When they bought Suarez, he was a proven goalscorer at international level, had won the Golden Boot with Ajax - he couldn't have been more different to Andy Carroll.

Andy played on loan at Preston, then came back to Newcastle but was only on the fringes when I was there and didn't play. He started scoring when they went down a division and then got a few when they got back in the Premier League, but that was probably down to Newcastle playing to his strengths with long balls and the fact that defenders didn't know how to play against him.

He was called up by England, but wasn't quite at that level and I think if you sat him in a room and asked if he thought that at this stage he'd be playing for England and be a £35 million player for one of the biggest clubs in the world, he'd probably say no. Liverpool paid such a big fee because of the Torres situation and they must have known, like I know and everyone else knows, that he's not worth £35 million and probably never will be. It has looked like such a heavy burden for Andy to carry and he's missed chances that if he was confident would be guaranteed goals.

The biggest danger for him is that clubs like Liverpool won't wait forever. He's got to catch up and he's got to do it now. The onus is not on the club or Kenny Dalglish, it's on Andy and it's up to him what happens next. When I moved to Liverpool, I was just some kid from Scunthorpe and while everyone naturally wants you to do well, the key to it all is you. You need to ask yourself, 'do I feel that when you go out at Anfield I belong on that massive stage?' At the moment Andy seems to me like a player who only half believes he is meant to be there.

There is a temptation to compare him to someone like Robbie Keane, who didn't produce at Liverpool despite possessing unquestionable talent, but Andy arrived as a much less established player than Keane so that's a little unfair. Where the comparison is fair, however, is that Liverpool will not wait around and if Andy continues to underperform they will do something about it, whether it be signing another centre forward or potentially even selling him at a loss.

However, things could all change for Andy. He is a talented lad and he can turn it around. If he gets a couple of goals, secures a couple of wins, and helps take Liverpool back into the top four then people may stop discussing how much he cost. Kenny wants to have the dilemma when Suarez is available of which striker he should leave out.

While the lack of goals - an FA Cup mauling of Oldham aside - and the poor home form has been a cause of concern for Kenny, there are positives too. The return of Steven Gerrard is fantastic for the club and if Liverpool don't go out and buy anyone in January, he will at least be like having a new signing; you sense the fans can't wait for Gerrard and Suarez to be playing together in the same team again.

Defensively, Liverpool have looked very sound as well. Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger have established an excellent partnership and have been keeping Jamie Carragher out of the side, which few would have predicted.

I'm sure Bolton wish their defence looked as stable as this Saturday's opponents. Gary Cahill's departure to Chelsea this week was a big blow for Owen Coyle but you can understand why they let him go. Bolton are obviously desperate to stay in the Premier League but they are not silly when it comes to finances. Cahill would have walked away at the end of the season for absolutely nothing and that'd have been a real killer. The board, the chairman and the manager have all weighed up whether he's worth more than £7 million to them between now and the end of the season and decided that he isn't. And if they kept him and went down anyway, they've lost whatever the Premier League brings to them, plus that potential £7 million.

His absence will be felt though. If you're a Zat Knight or Kevin Davies in the dressing-room, you will understand why it's happened but it's not a good thing. You don't want to see your best player walking out. Cahill was the only Bolton player who a club like Chelsea would come in for. There are others who are good, don't get me wrong, but he was the stand-out player in that side.

Owen will need to replace him quickly and it looks as though they will be signing Tim Ream from New York Red Bulls, but that's a big gamble as you're swapping an experienced Premier League player for someone who has never played in England. The American lads who have come into the Premier League have historically done well without ever being spectacular, though Stuart Holden has proved himself a key player for Bolton so maybe Ream can too.

With no Cahill, you have to put Liverpool as favourites on Saturday, though Bolton may fancy their chances of winning against a team with no Suarez. It's a game of contrasting aspirations. Can Liverpool start proving their top-four credentials? Can Bolton improve on their shocking home record of one win, one draw and eight losses? Saturday night should provide us with some answers.

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