Unai Emery has taken the reigns from Arsene Wenger for little more than a month but has wasted no time in a big shakeup at the Emirates.
Veteran Swiss wingback Stephan Lichtsteiner signed on a free transfer from Italian giants Juventus and goalkeeper Bernd Leno from Bayern Leverkusen for a fee reported to be £19.6m. These look to be followed by Dortmund’s Greek centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos who is believed to be joining on July 1st.
Amongst these reported transfers is one name, though, a diminutive Uruguayan prodigy who up until 2013 was playing as a skilful #10 for Montevideo Wanderers. It was that same year that Torreira was able to secure a trial to Serie B club Pescara – the same club that the likes of Marco Verratti, Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne sharpened their teeth at.
The current Pescara manager, Massimo Oddo, told Italian newspaper La Repubblica of his first impressions of Torreira and his decision to convert him from a #10 to a conventional #6:
“It was pre-season training and the club told me to take a look at him and said, ‘If not, we’ll send him back to Uruguay’,” he said.
“I saw in him a football intelligence, personality, physical strength… but he always wanted the ball at his feet. So, I told him, ‘Why don’t you play as a defensive midfielder instead of the playmaker?’ I put him in the first team immediately.”
This was the position that would see Torreira make a name for himself and it only took five appearances for Pescara before Serie A club, Sampdoria, made a move to secure his signature.
Samp are another club that’s had a fantastic scouting network in recent years – the other prime examples of this being Mauro Icardi, Patrik Schick, Milan Skriniar and current Belgian starlet Dennis Praet.
Sampdoria play a narrow 4-4-2 diamond formation in which Lucas Torreira plays as an archetypal holding midfielder.
He’s flanked by Polish midfielder Karol Linetty and the aforementioned Praet. Gaston Ramires (previously of Southampton and Middlesbrough) plays at the tip with the physically impressive Duvan Zapata and perennial Fabio Quagliarella are the preferred striking partnership.
Within this shape, Sampdoria play a pressing, possession game. On the ball, the wingbacks wait for the ball to be transitioned into midfield before pushing up into space and the ball is circulated with slow, short and precise passing to lead to shooting opportunities.
Off the ball, Sampdoria’s pressing is rigorous. The faster Zapata hurries the opposing centre-backs in possession, while Quagliarella and Ramires drop off to mark the deepest midfielder and shut off passing lanes into midfield. Linetty and Praet are tasked with pressing the wingbacks. This leaves Torreira to shuffle incessantly into the space that is vacated. He is aggressive, quick off the mark and, while, he lacks the strength to bully a midfield in the way a Nemanja Matic would, you can be sure he’ll hassle them relentlessly.
Statistically, Torreira averages at 2.8 tackles per game and is behind only Lucas Leiva for tackles last season in the whole of Serie A.
He’s also in the top five for players who have drawn the most fouls which is a testament to his ability to carry the ball. He’s been closely compared with the likes of his Pescara predecessor Verratti and although his creative numbers fall short of PSG’S Italian maestro, his defensive numbers are already far superior.
He also ranks in the top five for successful passes, interestingly ranking higher than Juventus’ highly-rated Miralem Pjanic in the process and is seventh for ball recoveries in the entire of the top five European leagues.
To put it into greater perspective, he averages 8.37 ball recoveries per 90 minutes, narrowly behind Chelsea’ N’golo Kante who has 9.37. To be in the ballpark of Kante in his defensive work, while boasting superior creative output is promising indeed, although we all know the Premier League is a different animal.
On the ball, Torreira is ice cold and composed, using quick feet, clever body feints or his impressive passing range to get his team out of tricky situations and keep them ticking over.
While off the ball, he cleverly presses it, using his low centre of gravity to nick the ball from players much bigger in stature. Former Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas recently picked Torreira out as a player he liked in the current Uruguay citing him as one that can break lines with his passing.
It also says a lot about Torreira’s dedication to his teams that he finished his season on loan back at Pescara with seven warts on his feet. The physio said he could barely walk but had played for months and months without complaining – a warrior in the making.
Lucas Torreira could be the key to connecting what is an Arsenal midfield devoid of balance between offence and defence. A club once eulogised for amazing football has become stale and inconsistent. How we keep the ball seems ill-prepared and unsystematic.
In a new era of positional football, we have been falling further and further behind.
Torreira has the physical, mental and technical attributes to play with both Xhaka and Ramsey, (although I believe Ramsey will be used higher up the pitch), but the most interesting food for thought is the potential of him playing next to Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
This is a player Emery and Gazidis have gone to great lengths to talk up and a player that could really have a breakthrough season in 2018/19, especially with the addition of Lucas Torreira.