A pair of skyscrapers came into sight in the Premier League on Tuesday, glimpsed through the heavy cloud and rain that has characterised the English new year. Both are part of London's landscape, though they have not been that conspicuous lately.
Their names are Andy Carroll, all 1,93m of him, and Fernando Llorente, who stands a little taller, and they represent a formidable Plan B for the ambitions of their respective employers, West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur, over the coming months.
Both scored the first Premier League goals of the season in their clubs’ first matches of 2018, contributing to victories. And both scored the types of goals they are most valued for: headers from crosses. Carroll also added a neat, right-footed, angled strike late in West Ham’s 2-1 win over West Bromwich Albion.
Both men will be in consideration for Thursday's capital derby at Wembley, although the tight fixture schedule, 48 hours between matches, means they may have reduced parts to play. Llorente knows his role: The Spain international is essentially a back-up to the most prolific striker in English football, Harry Kane, who was suffering from a cold ahead of Tuesday's trip to Swansea City, and from the bench watched Llorente leap - from an offside position; he had some luck – to nod in the first goal in a 2-0 win. Kane then came on to set up the late second.
Carroll, who six winter transfer windows ago become the costliest British footballer in history when he joined Liverpool from Newcastle United, is, at two days shy of his 29th birthday, basically a Plan B option at West Ham. That’s not because his specialist skill, the "old-fashioned" target man, is a limitation, but because his erratic fitness record makes him a risky Plan A. He has missed two months of this season with muscular problems. He was out of action for more than half of 2016/17.
West Ham manager David Moyes is thrilled to see Carroll applying himself effectively. His first goal of the season, a thumping header, from a running jump was, said Moyes, “as good as it gets” for Carroll's type of footballer. Were Carroll to sustain form for long enough to get, say, 10 goals in a Premier League season for the first time since 2011 then, because of his unique combination of strength and power in the air, a lobby would probably gather in favour of his going to the World Cup with England - for whom he has nine caps - as back-up for Kane.
In the mean time, Moyes remains cautious about the impact Carroll can have on West Ham’s lingering battle against the threat of relegation. “Some games,” said the manager, “will suit Andy more than others.” Still, it is a contented manager who, as the second half of the season gets under way, can talk about choices, and reach for a functional Plan B.
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Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino sees his Plan B expanding. He was delighted to have Llorente, signed last summer from Swansea, on a Premier League scoresheet, and even more so that Victor Wanyama, a midfielder built to withstand even a hurtling Andy Carroll, has completed his long recuperation from a knee injury he sustained in August. Wembley will cheer the Kenyan loudly when he steps onto the pitch in front of a home crowd again, and Spurs be more rugged in midfield for his presence.
Pochettino, meticulous in his planning, will want Wanyama back at his best for the resumption of the Uefa Champions League next month, when Spurs face Juventus and anxious questions about Tottenham's strength-in-depth, relative to the heavyweights of European football and other clubs competing for a place in the top four of the Premier League, are posed.
But Tottenham’s resources look better than they did a month or so ago, with Wanyama recovered, and the winger Erik Lamela back in action after his long lay-off. Toby Alderweireld, the outstanding central defender, is expected back, following a hamstring injury, next month, which will also sooth Pochettino’s concerns about the adaptation of Davinson Sanchez, the 21-year-old Colombian defender who joined from Ajax six months ago, to the demands of the Premier League and Champions League.
Sanchez is accomplished. But he has had moments looking ill at ease with the bump and bash of English football. He may need a little time to become fully Carroll-resistant.