Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, insisted yesterday that "stats are there for everyone to twist and turn whatever way they want to". It had just been put to him that Liverpool, who attempt to rebuild their crashing Premier League campaign at Newcastle United on Sunday, have won six of the last seven games in which Andy Carroll has started.
Carroll, who will face the Gallowgate end for the first time since his £35m departure 14 months ago, had started to establish a more convincing partnership with Luis Suarez before Dalglish omitted him from the Liverpool sides who lost consecutive matches to Queen's Park Rangers and Wigan. Liverpool have won none of the last seven games in which Carroll has been omitted from the starting line-up.
"For me, it's not about any one individual," said Dalglish, who has always seemed curiously reluctant to praise the 23-year-old. "It's about what the squad has done to get results. I won't sit and analyse everyone's stats to see where they come out at the end. If you're looking for someone with good stats, the most impressive is Maxi [Rodriguez], when he's started the games."
Considering Carroll's difficulty in settling on Merseyside – a Carlos Tevez/Carroll swap deal was floated in an informal call from Anfield to Manchester City director Brian Marwood in January – Newcastle appear to have had the better of the bargain struck in January last year and now stand eight points clear of Dalglish's side in the Premier League.
"They are all entitled to their opinion," Dalglish said of that notion. "I'm sure whatever we say about whatever Andy had done, opinion will always be split. There are always going to be people saying it was good or bad. But that doesn't make any difference really."
Liverpool's problem has been playing to Carroll's strengths. The service from the wings has not been there for him to use his aerial power, of which there have been fleeting flashes. His influential role in the 2-1 FA Cup fourth-round win against Manchester United in January prompted him to say: "I think I'm just getting into my stride now. Everyone is getting used to how I play and I'm getting used to everyone else." News of the call to Marwood broke a few hours later.
Though Liverpool have struggled to raise themselves for games against the so-called lesser Premier League sides, Liverpool analyst Dan Kennett has shown that the win percentage is broadly the same whether Carroll starts against teams higher than Liverpool - 63 per cent – or lower: 57 per cent. Dalglish's win percentage against higher sides in games when Carroll has not started is 17 per cent.
Dalglish insisted the FA Cup semi-final against Everton at Wembley two weeks tomorrow would not be a distraction and he brushed away David Moyes' attempt to position Everton as having less to lose, evident this week when he called Liverpool the favourites.
"I suppose somebody has got to be favourite haven't they?" Dalglish said. "Moyesy doesn't want to be favourites – that doesn't make any difference to us. We'll take it. It doesn't matter what the odds are. All that matters is what happens on the day."
Carroll: Start stats
Liverpool fare a lot better with Andy Carroll in the starting line-up than when he is used from the bench.
With Carroll starting:
28 Jan Man United (h) Won 2-1
31 Jan Wolves (a) Won 3-0
6 Feb Tottenham (h) Drew 0-0
19 Feb Brighton (h) Won 6-1
26 Feb Cardiff (n) D 2-2, won pens
13 Mar Everton (h) Won 3-0
18 Mar Stoke (h) Won 2-1
With Carroll coming off the bench:
14 Jan Stoke (h) Drew 0-0
25 Jan Man City (h) Drew 2-2
11 Feb Man United (a) Lost 2-1
3 Mar Arsenal (h) Lost 2-1
10 Mar Sunderland (a) Lost 1-0
21 Mar QPR (a) Lost 3-2
24 Mar Wigan (h) Lost 2-1