A defender who looks like he graduated from La Masía, but how good is Villarreal’s 23-year-old centre-back Pau Torres, and could he one day play for Barça?
Barcelona, as a club, has always had a unique philosophy and a defined style of play. This sometimes makes finding suitable players a tough job. A traditional winger or a traditional out-and-out striker may be a good fit for many world-class clubs but may not be for Barcelona. But sometimes, a player comes along from some other academy who looks like he is a La Masía product. This is the case with Villareal’s Pau Torres, who looks like a defender tailormade for Barça. What makes him suitable for Barcelona? What can he actually offer to the club? Just how good Is he? Find out in this article.
Born in Villareal on 16 January 1997, Pau Torres is a youth product of the Villareal academy. He started playing for Villareal’s youth system and has gone on to represent them at all levels, making his mark as an important player for the first team this season.
A true Groguet, he started playing for Villareal at the age of 5. He made consistent progress at each level in his development. He debuted with the senior squad on 26 November 2017 against Sevilla, which made him just the fourth Villareal-born player to debut for the first team. After a loan spell at Málaga in the 2018/19 campaign, he joined the senior team permanently.
In terms of his physical overview, Pau Torres is a 191cm tall central defender. A calm, left-footed player who has a composed and smart style of play. Under Javier Calleja, Pau Torres has become the player with the third-most minutes for Villareal this season. He plays as the left centre-back with the more experienced and also Spanish international Raúl Albiol alongside him. Villareal relies on both of them heavily in terms of the build-up. Pau Torres has been very dependable for them this year and has been linked to a number of top clubs, to no surprise.
Villareal have employed a 4–1–4–1 type of system this season. They rely on their full-backs moving up the field and stretching the opposition. Because of this, the central defenders are somewhat wide apart, similar to how Gerard Piqué and Clément Lenglet were under Ernesto Valverde at Barcelona, but not that apart. Pau Torres hence has the job of either containing the opposition till Villareal regroup or of winning back possession. With his well-developed physique, the 23-year-old is able to use it to his advantage well.
As Torres is not the fastest player, he has to rely on his other abilities. In terms of pure tackling, the young Spaniard actually prefers to avoid it, which is something that has helped him develop his positioning and vice versa. Hence, it is no surprise to see that he only averages 1 tackle per game according to SofaScore. But his positioning and his ability to read the game well make him a tough defender to beat regardless. Torres’ positioning is one of his strongest assets. With the help of such, he has managed to win 63% of his tackles this season against dribblers.
Pau Torres and Raúl Albiol have formed a very balanced and complementary defensive partnership for Villarreal | Photo by Eric Alonso via Getty Images
In football, it is very, very important to have excellent basics and Pau demonstrates this perfectly. His ability to judge space and the opposition’s movement is incredible. Often when the opposition is on the attack, Villareal have a numerical disadvantage in defence because of their full-backs drifting up the field. In such situations, Torres is excellent in judging the passing lanes and cutting them off while simultaneously not allowing the opposition to dribble past. Because of this, Villareal can afford to commit more players to attack in the first place.
His 191cm height is quite useful, especially considering his strength to complement it, and this makes him very solid aerially. He is not only a threat in set pieces, but he also manages to win around half of his aerial duels when defending.
One of Pau Torres’ strongest qualities is his passing ability. Villareal often play out from the back. Therefore, the responsibility to get the ball forwards falls on the defenders rather than the goalkeeper. Torres is very well-versed in this aspect. He averages a passing success rate of 85%, and 92% in his own half. Out of 1998 passes, only 18 were intercepted this season.
“I prefer to anticipate and concentrate on the play to be a step ahead in split balls and losses. I also like to have the ball and I think I have the ability to play out from behind”Pau Torres
A combination we see frequently is between Pau, the left central-defender, and the full-back or midfielder on the right wing. Especially when Villareal face a team that doesn’t press very high, Torres will look to carry the ball forward and trigger one opposition player to press. He uses this to disrupt the opposition formation and simultaneously create space for his teammates. From this scenario, he can help the team progress. To show for this, he has his passing accuracy to prove his ability. He completes an impressive 93% of his passes ranging between 5–25 yards.
Pau Torres is a commanding presence in the air in both boxes | Photo by José Jordan / AFP via Getty Images
As mentioned before, his combination with the right wing is very strong. His long passes to switch the play are a characteristic feature of his. Because of such a good passing range, Pau Torres is a very effective ball-playing defender, similar to an ideal Barça centre-back. As expected, the opposition is usually wary of this, but the fact that he is good with the ball at his feet allows him to use this as an advantage. When the ball is with him, he can either dribble forward or pass it. This forces the opposition to make a split-second decision on whether to press him or contain his passing.
Torres’ decision making is tested here. Not only in terms of which choice to make but also how to execute it. He knows when to dribble and where to dribble. Thus, he has a success rate of more than 70% in completing dribbles. This has meant it’s no surprise to see that he has dribbled approximately 9.7km this term, out of which 5.7km are progressive. His dribbling combined with excellent line-breaking passes makes him a major threat from the back. His passes very often take the opposition’s attacking line out of play and even the second line sometimes. He utilises his excellent passing range and accuracy to play the ball forwards rather than laterally whenever possible. Because of his ability to play passes that break the opposition’s lines, he is given the freedom to move forward wisely as well.
Pau Torres is a player who is highly thought-off by all scouts throughout Europe. He has had many offers recently, but the Villareal administration is not budging from his €50 million release clause. For a top European team which can offer him a starting role, or at least significant playtime, this would be an excellent deal if he suits their style. Especially for a team that builds up from the back, looks to play a possession-based game and needs a strong ball-playing defender, Pau Torres would be perfect.
Barça have not as good of a defence as they should, and Pau Torres would certainly be an improvement. For the Catalans, he would potentially be a very good fit. With Piqué ageing, Barcelona do need a central defender to fill in his role. The only disadvantage would be that Torres is left-footed. Either he or Lenglet would have to play in the right of defence in the future if Pau Torres joined Barça, despite Manchester City’s and former La Masía Eric García may be bought for just that. But apart from that, Pau Torres is one of those players who look like they came from La Masía themselves. He definitely has the potential to be an important part of Barcelona’s future, and he would by no means be out of place at the Camp Nou.
Can Alexander Isak be the firepower Barcelona need in their attacking arsenal
With incoming presidential elections and the resulting anticipation of a rebuild, more and more players are being linked to Barcelona. Besides big names like Erling Haaland and David Alaba, Real Sociedad centre-forward Alexander Isak is reportedly on the Catalans’ radar. A new striker is an absolute must for the club and Isak’s €70 million release clause is turning heads. His stock is rising and he has a bright future ahead of him, but should Barcelona pursue him?
Isak is currently in the midst of his second season for Basque-outfit Real Sociedad. The 21-year old started his career at the Swedish club AIK before moving to Borussia Dortmund’s youth setup in 2017. Lacking first-team opportunities, he was loaned to Dutch club Willem II, where he tallied an impressive 14 goals and 7 assists in 18 appearances. Isak then moved to Sociedad in the summer of 2019 and scored 16 goals in his debut season. This season, he has 12 goals in 29 appearances.
He has been dubbed the “next Zlatan Ibrahimovic” by some, and with the Swedish national team, Isak has scored five goals in 18 appearances.
Tactical and Statistical Analysis
Isak has all the attributes of a classic “target man”, one whose main role is to win aerial duels and play off of creative teammates, but his game is much more than that. He stands tall at 190 cm, or 6 foot 3 inches, but has incredible speed and balance. Despite his height, however, he is only winning 42% of his aerial duels this season.
Isak likes to play off the shoulder of the defence, eagerly waiting for through balls from creative midfielders like Mike Merino or David Silva. Alternatively, he can also hold the ball up. With his combination of speed and dribbling ability, he is a constant threat on the counter-attack, capable of getting past defenders or dragging bodies and creating space for runners. He also has decent vision and passing acumen for a centre forward, but Sociedad’s set up doesn’t allow him to maximize these qualities.
Statistically, he is averaging 1.36 dribbles per 90 minutes this season at a clip of 64.8%. According to fbref.com, when compared to forwards in Europe’s top five leagues (Spain, England, France, Germany, and Italy), Isak stands out in terms of his successful pressures rate (93rd percentile), pressures in the attacking third (81st percentile), and carries into the penalty area (87th percentile).
In front of the goal, Isak is dangerous with both his feet and his head. He is unpredictable with his finishing, always keeping defenders and goalkeepers on edge. This campaign, his 12 goals are fairly evenly distributed: six with his right foot, three with his left, and three with his head. Most of his goals have come from through balls or passes over the defence. He carries the ball in his stride and finishes with confidence.
His goalscoring record was rough to start the season, scoring only four goals across 20 appearances, but he’s picked things up in 2021. The forward has been in rich vein of form, already scoring nine goals this calendar year. Furthermore, in La Liga, he has scored in each of his last six appearances, not to mention a hat trick last time out against Alavés. He could have a breakout season if he continues scoring at this rate, attracting offers from teams across Europe.
Where would he fit at Barça?
Naturally, Isak fits a need for the Blaugrana at centre forward. The team has no natural “number nine” –other than Martin Braithwaite — and with Messi entering his twilight years and potentially leaving in the summer, they desperately need goal-scorers. The Swedish international is well adapted to playing as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 system and is already accustomed to playing in La Liga, so Barça won’t need to worry about adaptation along those lines.
Tactically, his height and runs into the box could bring a different dimension to a fairly one-dimensional Barça attack. While he could fit in well with the team’s patient and possession-oriented approach, his game is more suited for runs into open spaces and spearheading counter attacks.
The question is, would he start for Barcelona? Messi is best suited for a false nine role, and Isak would not displace Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé, or Ansu Fati in the front line. On the contrary, he could be an extremely productive squad option, but his potential transfer fee would be too high to warrant such a role.
Should Barcelona pursue him?
There are plenty of intriguing reasons for Barça to pursue Isak, but he should not be their number one transfer target. He undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him and is showing immense quality this season, but he might not be ready to carry Barcelona’s front line.
There will be a lot asked of him, and he will be expected to perform on the biggest stages in world football, and his zero goals in the Europa League this season are not reassuring. Despite his incredible form over the last few games, Barça need to see more consistent output if he is to be their number nine for the next decade.
He would also cost the club around 70 million euros, and that money could serve the team better by investing that in other areas like centre back or centre defensive mid.
While he is still young and has time to improve, Barcelona should focus on more refined and finished products.
On the one hand, Isak could bring a lot to the Blaugrana and offer much-needed variation to their attack. On the other hand, there are signs pointing to the fact that he is not yet the calibre of player Barcelona need to lead their frontline, especially for that sum of €70 million. He could be a more than sufficient squad option and someone who could develop in the long term, but once again, that transfer fee warrants caution.
Also, facilitating his move could be quite difficult given that his ex-team Borussia Dortmund have a reported €30 million “buy-back” clause attached to his name. If (and when) the German club are to lose Erling Haaland, they could easily opt for Isak as his replacement.
Isak is a solid striker and has a lot of potential, but he is not yet the player capable of leading Barcelona’s front line. That paired with his potential transfer fee means the club should focus on other transfer targets first.