Is Cole a hindrance more than a help . . . ?

I was excited to see the team sheet before Saturday’s game against Newcastle, as on paper, a front line of Carlton Cole, Frederic Piquionne, and Victor Obinna would be a terror mix of power and speed for opposing defenses.  Considering Newcastle’s back line, who are well organized but by no means a match physically for our forwards, I saw this game as a chance to form a cohesive partnership that could run around and through any opposition.  For 15 minutes this was the case as Newcastle struggled to deal with the movement and pace of the front three, with excellent service coming from the midfield.  The rest of the game?  Not so much.  After that first, wonderfully worked goal, the offense consisted of booting the ball upfield at first opportunity and hoping for someone to run onto it.  This seems to be the preferred offensive method when Carlton Cole is playing as a target forward, and therein lies the rub.

Cole has been getting a lot of stick from the fans for his recent performances.  It’s almost too easy to forget that he single-handedly carried the team for the first part of last year until his unfortunate knee injury.  Since his return he has been a shadow of the player he was before, with his touch deserting him and any speed almost non-existent.  Yet for some reason, whenever he plays it seems like the rest of the team feels that he is the only option for moving the ball upfield.  More often that not, it seems like the defense or midfield will win the ball and send it forward only to see it come right back at them from a bad trap from Cole.  For all his size and physicality, I just don’t see Cole being that kind of target forward.  He was at his best when the ball was played on the ground, with good movement and support from his midfield and wings.  Asking him to be the primary hold-up player has not and will not work, but for whatever reason, when he plays it seems like that is the only way to go.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this season, the offense performed much better when Obinna and Piquionne were leading the line.  Both player and ball movement seemed to be more fluid, and the team as a whole played the passing game that West Ham is known for.  Even for this game, the lone West Ham goal came from a team move, involving Cole only for the finish, not during the build up.  The rest of the game showed no hint of the same offensive tactics.  Maybe he has never fully recovered from his injury, but Cole may be better off coming on as a late game substitute at this point rather than the focal point of the offense.  I would think that Avram Grant would return to the lineups that were resulting in positive play and results, rather than the toothless attack  that resulted in Saturday’s loss.



~ by ar_sage on October 26, 2010.

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