While yesterday's match against Basel was pretty heartbreaking, there were a couple of positives for Spurs. Kyle Walker had one of his best games in recent memory, Clint Dempsey showed he still has a nose for scoring scrappy goals, and Jan Vertonghen played pretty well until his red card. But for most Cartilage Free Commenters, the biggest positive was the incredibly assured performance of Thomas Carroll (henceforth, Little Tom).
(Note: If you didn't see the match, I suggest you watch, if only to see Little Tom's performance. I'll do my best to describe his performance, but no description will equal actually watching the match with an eye on Little Tom.)
Upon re-watching the second half this morning, what stood out for me was how his head was on a swivel throughout his time on the pitch. A recent study confirmed the obvious, that players who often use exploratory visual behaviors (ie turn their head and bodies to view their surroundings) have better field vision than players who use exploratory visual behaviors less frequently. Not surprisingly, this is one of the key components of Barcelona's training methods, according to Xavi Hernandez:
When you arrive at Barça the first thing they teach you is: think. Think, think, think. Quickly. [Xavi starts doing the actions, looking around himself.] Lift your head up, move, see, think. Look before you get the ball. If you're getting this pass, look to see if that guy is free. Pum. First time.
Little Tom's display yesterday was a paragon of this brand of football. Whether Spurs were attacking or defending, Little Tom was constantly evaluating his surroundings, gathering information on where players were (and were not) on the pitch. When he received the ball, either from a teammate or a Basel player, he was decisive - already aware of where other players on the pitch were, he could concentrate on making a pass or dribbling into space. In defense, this awareness allowed him to make two crucial tackles in the 110th minute as well as an excellent interception in the 114th minute on a cross that would have surely lead to a goal were it not for Little Tom's quick feet.
On the night, Little Tom completed 31 of his 36 passes, though that really doesn't do justice to how good his passing was. As can be seen on the chalkboard below, his passing was extremely positive. In comparison to Mousa Dembele - the player who was subbed for Little Tom - Little Tom tended to play passes forward and over longer distances.
Looking at the chalkboards in aggregate, it's easy to see how few passes from our midfield were anywhere near Basel's eighteen yard box. Though Tom only played around 60 minutes (and with Spurs down a man for about half that time), he completed five passes in that area. Among our midfield, only Lewis Holtby (2) and Tom Huddlestone (1) completed a pass in that zone.
Defensively, Tom's three tackles bested Scott Parker (1) and Moussa Dembele (0).
While one game is hardly enough evidence on which to base a conclusion, it is consistent with what the data already says - despite his small stature, Tom Carroll is not afraid to make a tackle:
@windycoys Thought you'd like this - of PL players with 5+ apps this season, Tom Carroll makes a tackle most often - every 12.5 mins— Ali Tweedale (@alitweedale) March 28, 2013
Looking back over what I've written above, I realize it reads like I think Little Tom could play for Barcelona or something (Tim Sherwood's words, not mine, for the record). I don't. But I do think that Little Tom should start for Spurs. All season we've moaned about not having a deep-lying playmaker to keep play moving and get the ball to our goalscorers. All season, the player we thought we lacked has been sitting on the bench.
Come on, Andre - it's time to play Little Tom Carroll.