Tottenham Hotspur: Predicting the Next Youth Players to Make First-Team Debuts
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Injuries can strike for Premier League teams at any point. After eight months worth of football (and that's not even including the preseason work that preceded it), all but the biggest of squads are facing their resources being stretched to their limits by the toll of a long season.
Along with some clubs having little to play for, it is partly why they will often involve previously untried youth team players for the first time.
Tottenham Hotspur are no different. Last season saw full-back Adam Smith make his full Spurs debut in the season's final game versus Fulham. Back in April 2010, Danny Rose memorably marked his first league start with a long-range volley that helped the team record a first league win over Arsenal in over a decade.
The inclusion of Shaquile Coulthirst and Cristian Ceballos in Tottenham's 18-man match-day squad for their last two games (against Basel and Everton, respectively) suggests the North London club's next debutant from their youth ranks may not be far off.
The circumstances that led to the particular involvement of those two included the fact that several other, slightly older second-string players are currently out on loan (the aforementioned Smith and Andros Townsend, among others), and more directly, the recent injuries suffered by first-team stars like Gareth Bale and Jermain Defoe.
Should Bale and his fellow recent treatment room occupants return (as is hoped) in the next week or two, it might be the case Coulthirst and Ceballos have to wait a little longer for their Spurs bow.
Even so, that the pair are still around the club as the current season comes to its conclusion means they stand a good chance of being further involved before they head off on their summer holidays.
Coulthirst made waves in November with a hat-trick for Tottenham in a 4-1 win over Barcelona in the NextGen Series group stage. The 18-year-old may be benefiting from being one of the only natural strikers available for Andre Villas-Boas to choose from right now, but he has shown an eye for goal in youth team football that will given his manager something to think about.
Reaching double-figures with the Under-18 squad this season, Coulthirst has also seen further involvement in the Under-21 team (scoring a few too) as a result of several players heading out on loan. Even in the case of a first-team debut this season, that is likely where he will predominantly continue to develop a little while yet.
Ceballos has been more frequently involved with the high-flying Under-21 squad (who were the first team this year to qualify for the semifinal stage of the competition), scoring 12 times in 19 appearances for Spurs.
As a former Barcelona youth product, there is unsurprisingly a certain level of expectation surrounding the Spaniard. An education with the Catalan giants does not always guarantee success (the talented Giovani Dos Santos never found his way at Tottenham), but the attacker is making a good go of it in North London.
His recent brace in a 3-1 win over Liverpool at Anfield evidently caught the eye judging by his promotion to the Spurs substitute bench the following week.
The 20-year-old is deemed a tad more versatile than Coulthirst and can play all throughout the final third. The chance of him featuring just off of the main striker in Tottenham's usual 4-2-3-1 formation might be too much to ask for in a crowded position. Then again, in offering Spurs something a little different in attack, he might yet get his chance.
A long-shot (but, a not entirely unrealistic one given Spurs' dearth of pacy back-ups out wide) for this season is the possibility of seeing Kenneth McEvoy given a run-out.
The 18-year-old was in the headlines earlier in 2013 after scoring a double in a 5-2 FA Youth Cup win over West Ham United. It was McEvoy's remarkably similar appearance to Bale that caught many people's attention, but the performance too was in keeping with what has been a promising year for the quick, positive midfielder.
One of the standout performers for the Under-18 team this season, he has also impressively filled the void in the Under-21s left by the several players out on loan. McEvoy scored a fine effort from outside the box in the win against Liverpool before following that up with an equalizer against West Ham just over a week ago.
It might be too soon for McEvoy, but the fact he is enjoying a decent run of form so late in the season will not have gone unnoticed.
As for beyond this season, there are a few others who might see first-team action relatively soon.
Alex Pritchard, one of Spurs' stars of their NextGen campaign, returned from injury to resume his loan spell at Peterborough United this past weekend. Having signed a new contract to seal his Spurs future a little while longer (this off the back of reported interest from Liverpool), he is one who will be especially keen to push on and translate his encouraging form at youth level into a senior berth.
January signing Zeki Fryers has been a regular in the Under-21 team since arriving. Having pursued the defender since prior to his joining Standard Liege from Manchester United, Fryers is evidently someone Spurs have high hopes for. Depending on how he looks in preseason, he might be given a chance to compete with the club's established defenders for a more regular place.
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