Tom Carroll had his first European start of the season for Tottenham against NK Maribor at White Hart Lane in the Europa League match, helping them to a 3 – 1 success. It was in this competition last season that he made his first appearances for Spurs as Harry Redknapp gave young players an opportunity in the Thursday evening games, resting his experienced players, as he saw it, for the more important challenges in the Premier League. Carroll excelled with his confidence and composure last season, always presenting himself to receive the ball from colleagues and looking to dictate play. With other inexperienced players around him last year it was a difficult task but Carroll stood up well to the scrutiny.
It was a different matter last night. Andre Villas-Boas regards the Europa League as a competition to be won and selected a strong team to right some of the wrongs of previous games which had ended in draws leaving Spurs a point behind their visitors and requiring a win to boost their chances of making the knock-out stages in the new year. Injuries to Mousa Dembele and Sandro have left the Spurs’ manager short in midfield in recent weeks but with Jake Livermore and Gylfi Sugardsson available he opted for Carroll. The youngster didn’t look out of place in this star-studded team playing in central midfield alongside Tom Huddlestone and surrounded with internationals like Gareth Bale, Emmanuel Adebayor, Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon expecting him to provide for their creative skills. Under such high expectations, Carroll showed considerable skill himself with his passing and control against a hard tacking Slovenian team.
Tom Carroll has progressed through the Tottenham Academy and at the age of twenty has already had experience in the League with Leyton Orient and Derby County over the past two seasons. In 2011 he helped Orient in their FA Cup run to the 5th Round, playing in both matches against Arsenal. He came on as a half-time substitute in the first match and started in the replay at the Emirates. Last season after making five appearances in the Europa League for Spurs and one in the Cup, Carroll spent the remainder of the season with Derby. He has made one appearance for the England Under-19 team and has been called in to the Under-21 squad and was an unused substitute. This year he has made two Cup appearances and made his Premier League debut last weekend, replacing Kyle Walker for the last ten minutes in the defeat to Wigan. Villas-Boas has been impressed with Carroll’s contribution to the team in the last three games,
“I thought Carroll had an extremely good game against Norwich. He was not going to have lots of involvement against Wigan and today we saw how skilful and talented he is. It’s fantastic for him.”
The first thing that everyone notices about Carroll is his slight build, looking more like a schoolboy than a professional footballer. Once play gets under way, however, Carroll displays a strength and a talent for passing which belies his age and stature. Last season in the European games, Carroll kept his game simple and precise, getting plenty of touches of the ball, constantly presenting himself for passes and passing the ball short. This year he has added to that by increasing his range of passes and last night he provided a constant supply to Bale on the left, giving him the ball quickly so that he had extra time to expose the Maribor defence. It was from Carroll’s precise through ball that Defoe scored Spurs second goal early in the second half which calmed the team’s anxieties after conceding just before half-time. Carroll also showed a strength in his game standing up well to the forceful presence of the Maribor midfield players as well as displaying his own ability for tacking back and winning the ball.
On another night Carroll with his display could have been considered for a ‘Man of the Match’ award such was the proficiency of his passing and all round game but there was stiff competition last night – a hat-trick from an international striker, a Welsh winger who wouldn’t be stopped, an English winger on the other side who was a constant danger and a striker making his first start of the season with a point to prove.
Last night Carroll displayed a talent for passing and opening up a defence that has been missing in the Spurs team his season. Tottenham have struggled without that ability which Luka Modric and Rafael Van der Vaart have provided for the past two years. For last night, at least, Carroll was able to provide that missing ingredient. Carroll gives Villas-Boas an additional option when selecting his midfield for future matches. Carroll has made good progress through the Academy and hopefully will get the opportunity to continue in that vein in the future.