It's Time for Tottenham's Bright Prospects to Kick on in UEFA Youth League

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2016

Tottenham Hotspur's Marcus Edwards in action against Juventus this summer. The talented attacker impressed in his first appearances with the senior squad.
Tottenham Hotspur's Marcus Edwards in action against Juventus this summer. The talented attacker impressed in his first appearances with the senior squad.Scott Barbour/Getty Images

What Tottenham Hotspur hope will be a long and productive European adventure did not get off to a good start against AS Monaco on Wednesday.

An early goal left the north Londoners having to claw their way back into the contest. They gained a foothold but could not do enough to avoid defeat, their chance to establish some momentum in the competition in front of their fans proving futile.

Tottenham's 3-2 loss in the UEFA Youth League preceded the senior side's 2-1 disappointment against the same opposition by a few hours.

The academy hopefuls were not subject to the pressures and intensity that an 85,011 Wembley Stadium attendance, along with the thousands more around the world watching, created. The close-to-scorching mid-afternoon heat at the Hotspur Way training ground and an eagerness to prove their talent created their own strains, though.

Four of the players involved have already had tantalising tastes of the first-team life they aspire to experience more regularly.

Marcus Edwards, Shayon Harrison, Kyle Walker-Peters and Anton Walkes were involved in Tottenham's pre-season this summer, featuring in either or both of the International Champions Cup fixtures in Australia (losses to Juventus and Atletico Madrid) and a 6-1 thrashing of Inter Milan in Oslo, Norway.

These four equipped themselves well in short but worthwhile appearances, impressing enough to mark them out as players worth supporters keeping an eye on. Speaking upon the club's return, manager Mauricio Pochettino was pleased in general with how the youthful contingent got on abroad.

"They grow up, and they mature in the one or two months that they are involved in the first team—a lot of names I can give you," he said prior to Spurs' Premier League opener against Everton.

In manager Pochettino's thinking the aforementioned quartet are evidently not quite as ready as peers Cameron Carter-Vickers, Josh Onomah and Harry Winks for more substantial opportunities (the former on the bench for the Champions League, the latter two featuring in the Premier League this season, with Winks also being rewarded with a new contract). However, the head honcho has made it clear he believes they are not too far off.

"We also have young players who have grown up through the Academy like Josh Onomah, Harry Winks, Marcus Edwards, Shayon Harrison and Kyle Walker-Peters, players who can show with time they are ready to compete in the Premier League." Pochettino told Spurs' website earlier this month.

For now, their development continues in the junior levels.

"We play roughly 30 international games a year with our various tours so we'll approach the UEFA Youth League in a similar manner," Tottenham's head of player development John McDermott told the club's website ahead of their bow in the baby Champions League, describing it as "a great occasion."

Edwards, Harrison, Walker-Peters and Walkes were among the more senior players in the de-facto under-19 squad for Monaco, regular contributors to the under-23 side, whereas most of their team-mates in this group play at under-18 level.

They have had a mixed start in the Premier League 2 competition, where Spurs sit seventh in the table after four games, winning and losing two apiece. The visit of Monaco was an ideal opportunity to check back in on those four and look again at their performances this summer.

 

Shayon Harrison

Whether in a friendly or not, getting your name on the scoresheet alongside the likes of academy trailblazer Harry Kane and an internationally recognised performer such as Erik Lamela is a big moment for a young player.

Harrison's goal capping off the thumping of Inter Milan was set up by the Argentinian to be unmissable. In his two appearances in Tottenham's summer expeditions, the striker emphasised a sense of good positioning that extends beyond the penalty area.

Moments after coming on against the Nerazzurri, he had chased a ball down the left to help keep a move alive. Later on, he linked up with Tom Carroll as Spurs enjoyed the fruits of their lead with somewhat meandering but still eye-pleasing moves.

Against Juventus a week earlier, Harrison was one of the substitutions to help engineer a more positive second-half performance from Spurs. The fledgling understanding with Lamela might have had some roots here, too.

Harrison worked hard to make the most of his opportunity against Juventus in the ICC.
Harrison worked hard to make the most of his opportunity against Juventus in the ICC.Jack Thomas/Getty Images

The 19-year-old's touch from a Victor Wanyama pass helped tee up the attacking midfielder's consolation goal. After another similar exchange later on, Lamela returned the favour in creating a chance that forced a good save from Neto.

The trouble with having such adaptability and admired industry in your game is coaches can view it as an excuse to use you to help others more than yourself.

The deeper role Harrison occupied this week against Monaco is one he is comfortable playing. An early exchange with Edwards almost saw Spurs break through and, leading by example, the captain did his part attempting to stifle the French club pushing forward.

Like Kane has experienced at points this season, there is a difference between being tasked with a more supporting role and having the freedom to occupy those areas as situations demand. Struggling to get hold of the ball against a confident Monaco side, and often bypassed by his own team as they went long to frontman Reo Griffiths, the middle portion of the game was a frustrating one for Harrison.

Spurs were 3-1 down entering the latter stages having fallen behind again after Samuel Shashoua had restored parity following the visitors' opener.

The urgency driving Monaco back served Harrison well, and he began seeing more of the ball in the final third. Shortly before converting a penalty after Edwards was fouled, he did well after recovering an initially intercepted cross and testing Loic Badiashile.

It is good for Harrison to experience different on-pitch duties. Like most forwards, though, you suspect he would prefer to be getting more time closer to goal.

 

Anton Walkes

Walkes appears to have relished his time with the Tottenham first-team this summer (see above). The versatile performer had a nice cameo late on against Juventus at full-back before playing 90 minutes in central defence for the subsequent match with Atletico Madrid.

The 19-year-old did not look intimidated by the recent Champions League finalists.

Walkes played with a focus most defenders 10 years older lack these days, tracking Hector Hernandez and Fernando Torres well in the first-half and later stopped the lively Amath Diedhiou instigating a potential break. When he did require help from Carter-Vickers after losing possession, he reacted promptly and got back into position.

Unfortunately, anyone who just saw snippets of the game will have seen the youngster's main contribution being a failed headed clearance of a free-kick that deflected the ball into the path of Diego Godin to score the winner.

Just under two months later against Monaco, Walkes was the victim of another unfortunate public occurrence. While Spurs and the Youth League's official Twitter (see below) credited the away side's untidy opener to Irvin Cardona, UEFA's official website put it down as an own goal from the Englishman.

Altogether, it was a tough afternoon for Walkes and fellow centre-back Timothy Eyoma against the talented Cardona who definitely struck two more after.

To begin with, he did well engaging the striker, his pressure leading to Spurs getting the ball and launching an Edwards attack. Thereafter, the Frenchman proved more of a handful; keeping track of him was difficult with others such as the pacy Kevin Appin demanding attention elsewhere.

Walkes and Eyoma had trouble keeping track of Cardona and others' movements as Monaco frequently attacked from the flanks; the ease with which their opponents cut in similar to the joy Chelsea had against Spurs in a recent Premier League 2 encounter.

Walkes did well aerially and was a reliable option as Spurs sought to build from the back. Monaco's more expansive attacks will be a timely reminder of just how much better he will need to be overall to consistently cut it against even tougher foes.

 

Kyle Walker-Peters

Kyle Walker-Peters came off the bench against Atletico Madrid in July.
Kyle Walker-Peters came off the bench against Atletico Madrid in July.Jack Thomas/Getty Images

Along with Onomah, Walker-Peters was part of the England squad to reach the semi-finals of the European Under-19 Championship this summer. Having participated in Tottenham's post-season tour of Malaysia and Australia in 2015, the defender was a little more experienced than some of his youth-team peers when it came to the trip down under this summer.

The 19-year-old did well last time out, albeit against limited opposition, and gave a good account of himself off the bench against Atletico Madrid, too. The quick and technically impressive full-back's offensive efforts stood out.

He got down the right flank and combined directly through there and looking inside with Heung-Min Son, Nacer Chadli and others as Spurs searched for an equaliser. Although not always spotted, he made sure he was a good option.

Defensively, Walker-Peters was a little more hit-and-miss.

Walker-Peters did not look out of place alongside more senior team-mates this summer.
Walker-Peters did not look out of place alongside more senior team-mates this summer.Scott Barbour/Getty Images

The good was clearing a cross and participating in Spurs' closing down of Atletico. The less-good was allowing Diedhiou in too easily.

Both those sides of Walker-Peters' game could be seen against Monaco.

He provided minimal protection from the right, though he was less well covered by the adventurous Edwards than left-back Tariq Hinds was by Shashoua. He was also far from alone in looking below-par.

As with the team itself, better was seen later on. Getting forward, he teamed up well with Edwards and substitute Zenon Stylianides as they searched for an opening.

Fleeting glances alone of Walker-Peters appear to show the stereotypical modern full-back, exciting going forward but a touch lax in vital areas at the back (also lacking a little height-wise). If he can learn from the example of first-team defenders Danny Rose and Kyle Walker and round out his game, closer inspections suggest the talent is clearly there for him to develop.

 

Marcus Edwards

Edwards' name has cropped up a lot already in this article.

That is not too surprising. The attacking midfielder was so central to Tottenham's game plan and better work (see above) that you could hear the coaching staff urging his team-mates to (paraphrasing) "get the ball to Marcus!" against Monaco.

Only 17, Edwards has made his way into the fringes of the first-team picture via eye-catching performances at youth level for Tottenham and England, as well as fears since assuaged not advancing him sooner would see him head elsewhere.

Two years ago, the fledgling talent described his style to the Football Association website's Gary Stonehouse.

"I smile in my head when I see the ball coming to me—I get excited," he said. "I've been doing it from a young age, I love attacking defenders. I like to believe that I possess flair, I'm exciting and skillful, so when that ball comes to me I couldn't be happier."

He was not exaggerating. You could see all that against Monaco.

Edwards showed plenty of maturity in his pre-season performances with the senior squad.
Edwards showed plenty of maturity in his pre-season performances with the senior squad.Jack Thomas/Getty Images

Edwards had some joy in the first half but found it hard to get going outright amid oppressive attention. After half-time, things opened up, and he set about taking the game to the travelling side.

The determination to express himself was seen in a two-minute period with a quarter of an hour remaining and Tottenham 3-1 down.

Cutting in from a short corner, Edwards helped set up the earlier-mentioned Harrison chance. Spurs got another corner and, despite more attention from Monaco, he skilfully cut in again and won a penalty when Quentin N'Gakoutou-Yapende brought him down.

A mazy dribble across the breadth of the box created another chance for Harrison later on. A shot of his own went just wide as the north Londoners could not secure the equaliser.

Excelling at this level is all well and good, but Edwards suggested this summer he is indeed not too far off being able to test himself more substantially against serious opposition.

What impressed most against these European giants was not the more easily deployed dribbles and simple passes. Rather, it was those moments when he had to think, to navigate a less productive route aware the outcome would not be a flashy, YouTube compilation-worthy showcase.

A good head on young shoulders could take Edwards and these other Tottenham academy boys where they want to be.