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Analysis

What have Barcelona missed out on by not signing Ferran Torres?

Samuel Gustafson

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Header Image by Ivá Arlandis / Action Plus via Imago

With the official confirmation that Valencia wonderkid Ferran Torres will be joining Manchester City, it looks like another player who’s been linked with Barcelona in the past will be moving to a different club instead. Let’s analyse the winger’s stats to see if he would have fit at Barça, and if the club has made a mistake by not pursuing him further.


Since making his La Liga debut in 2017 at just 17 years of age, Ferran Torres has risen up the ranks in the Valencia squad. This season, he was one of their most important players, and one of the few bright spots in a disappointing campaign, despite just turning twenty in February.

He had been linked with a number of big clubs over the years, including multiple times to Barça, but now it has been Manchester City who have confirmed that they have acquired the services of the young winger. But should Barcelona have made more of an effort to sign Ferran Torres? To answer this question, his stats from this past La Liga course will be analysed and compared to some other young talents. So, what do the numbers say?

Well rounded stats and strengths in key areas

Ferran Torres is certainly a player a who contributes to many aspects of attacking play. He gives his team a little bit of everything, and particularly excels in some of the most crucial skills for a winger. To start, let’s take a look at how the Spaniard’s stats for scoring and shooting stack up against the rest of La Liga.

Ferran Torres’ goalscoring and finishing stats for the 2019/20 season | Data via FB Reference

Torres could certainly look to improve his volume of scoring, but his 0.16 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes was still the third highest in the Valencia squad. This tally also shows good composure and finishing ability, as it matches his 0.16 expected goals per 90.

The weakest stat here for Ferran is probably his shots on target per 90, which was just 0.36. This ranked sixty-ninth out of all La Liga players, and was lower than the tally recorded by several players in deeper positions, like Real Madrid’s Toni Kroos and Real Sociedad’s Mikel Merino – both of them midfielders. In moving to a bigger side, Torres will need to be more involved shooting wise.

On the positive side, he gets into good positions when he does shoot, and he tends to make the most of them. Only twenty-nine La Liga players bettered Ferran Torres’ 0.12 non-penalty expected goals per shot – level with Karim Benzema – showing that when he does shoot, it’s usually a pretty good scoring opportunity. He isn’t wasteful of these chances either, as his actual output – 0.12 goals per shot – once again matches his expected output.

Overall, the teenage Spaniard is solid in front of goal, but nothing exceptional yet. However, his creative stats reveal more of his quality.

Arguably his most impressive stat is his 0.16 expected assists per 90, which had him tied for the twentieth best in La Liga. It was also the second best in the Valencia squad, and good enough to match the tally of Luis Suárez and surpass Antoine Griezmann (0.14). Torres clearly possesses great ability to play the final pass and set his teammates up to score, even at such a young age.

This skill of playing dangerous passes is also reflected in the 1.64 completions per 90 by Ferran Torres into the penalty area. Only ten La Liga players averaged more this season, and none were Valencia players. This skill can be an important one at a side like Barcelona or Manchester City, in order to break down a deep opposition defense.

With solid tallies for shot-creating actions (2.2), goal-creating actions (0.32), and key passes (1.08) as well, it’s clear that Torres is already one of La Liga’s best creators. This makes it exciting to think about what he could become with a few years of development and more talented teammates around him.

Another important skill for a wide player to have is strong dribbling. The stats of Torres show a player who has this ability, and, once again, lots of potential.

The 20-year-old excels at beating defenders with the ball. His 2.24 successful dribbles per 90 was the joint-eleventh highest in La Liga, and the highest of all Valencia players. When comparing this to the Barcelona squad, only Lionel Messi had a higher tally, showing that this is one area in which Ferran Torres could have provided a spark.

The Spaniard also does well at progressing the ball towards the opposition goal (141.7 yards per 90) and drawing fouls (1.56 per 90). In a more attacking, possession-dominant side, Torres would have even more opportunities to show off his dynamism with the ball at his feet.

With all these stats in mind, it’s clear that Torres is a talented player. While he could look to add more goal scoring to his game, the dribbling and creative ability he has at just twenty years old back up his status as a wonderkid. His numbers are already impressive in their raw form and compared to players much older than him, but Torres looks even better when you compare him to some of his fellow La Liga talents.

Excellent underlying numbers

To fully understand how much potential Ferran Torres possesses, let’s compare him to some of the world’s most highly rated young attackers. We will be pitting the stats of Ferran Torres against Real Madrid’s loanees Martin Ødegaard and Takefusa Kubo, and Barcelona young prodigy Ansu Fati. But first, let’s look a little bit into how often these players get the ball.

This season, Torres averaged 41.2 touches per 90. The other three players in the group each averaged more – Kubo by 4, Ødegaard by 26, and Ansu Fati by 22.3. If these players were all getting on the ball more often than Torres, especially Ødegaard and Fati, it’s unfair to compare their output on a raw level. So, to level the playing field, the attacking stats of each player will be calculated on a per 1,000 touches scale. Here’s how the group’s end product stats compare with the adjustment:

Ferran Torres Martin Ødegaard Takefusa Kubo Ansu Fati Barcelona

Here, we see the massive impact that Torres can have. Only Ansu Fati outperforms him for non-penalty goals, and the Valencia man leads the pack when it comes to expected assists. The positives continue for Ferran when this comparison is continued across more attacking metrics.

Ferran Torres Martin Ødegaard Takefusa Kubo Ansu Fati Barcelona

While Torres comes in last for shots on target, he still is right on pace with Ødegaard. He also compares very well to the others for key passes, in addition to leading for passes into the penalty area and being far ahead in second for successful dribbles.

These adjusted stats help to better show the impact a player like Torres can have. While he may have far fewer opportunities on the ball than say Ødegaard does for Real Sociedad, Torres does a lot with them. Going from Valencia (48.9% average possession) to Manchester City (66.7%) will also provide the youngster with far more chances to create, and it definitely seems like this would allow him to thrive.

This comparison also shows how exciting the potential partnership of Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati would be. While Fati excels with his incredible scoring record and finishing ability, the strengths of Torres lie more on the creative side. If the two had become Barcelona’s pair of wingers, their balance of skills could allow them to complement each other nicely.

Verdict

Is Ferran Torres a top quality player with lots of room to grow? Yes. Is he a player with the potential to play for Barça? He certainly seems to be. Could he flourish in a better attacking side? Definitely. But even with this in mind, a move to Barcelona probably wouldn’t have been in the best interests of Ferran Torres or the club.

Another young forward at Barça would mean reduced minutes and development for the others, who already have world-class potential. Additionally, from the perspective of Torres, there’s no guarantee that he would get proper match time and development with the state the club is in right now. The better move for him is probably the one he has chosen: Manchester, where he can learn under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola and play in a more balanced and dynamic side.

Ultimately, time will be the deciding factor as to whether or not Barça should have made this transfer. Hopefully Torres can grow into a great player at City, but one that is not needed at the Camp Nou because of the quality of the likes of Ansu Fati, Pedri, Ousmane Dembélé and Francisco Trincão. Either way, Ferran Torres is certainly a player to watch in the coming years, and his big move to England could prove just why.


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Analysis

How Zidane’s Real Madrid beat Koeman’s Barcelona

Anurag Agate

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Photo via Imago

The highly anticipated day of El Clasico, the clash of eternal rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid finally arrived. The Blaugrana were just two points ahead of Los Blancos with the same number of games played. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are at their most vulnerable right now; recent losses to Sevilla and Chelsea had already demoralized the team. Additionally, Luis Suarez – their top scorer -, is injured.

El Clasico has incredible importance on its own. Add to that the fact that it will be pivotal in the title race, and it becomes apparent how much it means to both sides. In this tactical analysis, we take a look at how Real Madrid managed to conquer Barcelona in a 2-1 victory.

The systems

Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona lined up in a 3-5-2 as expected. This formation is one that has contributed to Barcelona’s recent positive results significantly. Though this could be viewed as a 5-3-2 or even a 3-5-2-1 at times, the basic principles remained the same. Barcelona would look to build up from the back. The backline of Ronald Araujo with Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza on either side of him was the platform upon which the team would build-up.

In midfield, Sergio Busquets would be the deepest player, with Frenkie De Jong and Pedri Gonzalez as the two interiors. These two youngsters would operate in the half-spaces as their roles entail, but they would drop back and join the attack as well. Jordi Alba and Sergino Dest, the two wing-backs, would look to stretch the opposition and would be positioned high up the field.

In attack, Lionel Messi was joined by Ousmane Dembele. The Frenchman would operate through the centre as Messi would usually drop back and have the freedom to move across the pitch.

Zinedine Zidane has often been labelled as someone who manages big egos well but doesn’t have tactical expertise. Purely a misconception, this match was an example of how well the retired midfielder sets up his team. What was most admirable was how Zidane finds the perfect role for his players’ profiles.

Real Madrid were deployed in a 4-1-4-1. Casemiro would play between the lines, with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos just ahead oh him. This formation could also be viewed as a 4-5-1, which would be a 4-3-3 when attacking. In defence, Eder Militao and Nacho were the centre-halves with Lucas Vasquez and Ferland Mendy as the full-backs. To support the midfield as well as the attack, Vinicius Junior and Fede Valverde would act as wide midfielders.

Karim Benzema, the number nine, would drift into the channels or drop a bit deeper as required. He was the key to Madrid’s fluid attack. There would be a constant staggering between Benzema, Vinicius, and Valverde. When Benzema dropped deep to fight for the second ball, Vinicius and Fede would move forward and provide passing options. At times, Vasquez would overlap, which was Valverde’s cue to drop back. The players would also switch roles.

Madrid’s defensive organization

After getting a lead, Real Madrid were still proactive but to a lesser extent than earlier. They would even have five players defending at times, transitioning into a 5-4-1. Their timing and organization was impressive nonetheless. As we see in the image above, Ousmane Dembele is about to receive the pass. Immediately, Casemiro presses him, while other players start moving forward to close the distance to possible passing options. This meant Barcelona had little time on the ball deep in Madrid’s half.

The pressing shown by Los Blancos was very fine-tuned. The players were unsurprisingly not hesitant to play a physical game as well. As the earlier image shows us, Ousmane Dembele would receive the ball ahead of the defense and attempt to involve other players. Pedri and de Jong were the most obvious passing options. However, for them, the passing would more often than not be out wide. This was forced due to Madrid’s structure which prevented them from playing through the middle.

Arguably one of Barcelona’s strongest moves is when Messi plays Jordi Alba through between the full-back and centre-halves. Though it was effective at some points in the match, this was clearly something Zidane expected. When either full-back would have crossing options, the full-backs would look to block the cross.

Simultaneously, the centre-halves would track Barcelona’s attackers Messi and Dembele. These two being the only two forwards, Mingueza’s goal was one of the few times the team actually had more players looking to attack. Casemiro would be in the box looking to clear the ball or cover for any defensive holes.

What went wrong for Barcelona?

Ronald Koeman’s team selection was well-thought-out. Shifting de Jong to midfield was a smart choice. However, as the scoreline clearly shows, some issues persisted.

One of the main ones being the lack of attackers in the final third. This was a formation with two attackers on paper, but one of them was Messi. Expecting the argentine to make runs off the ball and act as a target man is highly unrealistic. He does best when he’s on the ball. This would leave Dembele alone upfront. The Frenchman isn’t a classic number 9 who takes shots on the swivel and can establish himself in the box. Against a defence that was sitting very deep, he was unable to run onto the ball between the full-backs and centre-halves the way he likes to.

The image above shows a common scenario observed in the first half. Receiving the ball in the final third, Dembele turns to face the defenders. As they don’t lunge in, rather trying to contain him. he is unable to beat them in a 1v1. There is plenty of space with no Barcelona players highlighted in the image. This lack of attackers was one of the reasons Koeman switched to the 4-3-3. Shown below, the 4-3-3- allowed Pedri and Dembele to be more involved.

Statistical analysis

Below, we have a visualization showing the PPDA stats for both teams. A lower PPDA means a higher pressing intensity. As we can see, Barcelona were clearly pressing much more than Real Madrid throughout the match. Despite this, they failed to create enough chances. To demonstrate this, we can observe the xG graph.

As the xG graph shows, there were some situations when the Catalans had a chance to change the score-line in their favour. Among other reasons, Dembele’s inability to play as a striker and inefficiency in finishing was clearly affecting the team. The visualization below the xG graph shows the shot map. It further reaffirms the observation that Barcelona need to improve in front of the goal and in terms of the quality of chances created.

With a higher number of shots, Barcelona still had a lower xG than their rivals. Another indication of low-quality chances is the size of the circles in the box for both teams. The smaller the circle, the less likely it is to end up in the back of the net. The stark contrast is one of the many indicators that there are major issues to be resolved in attack for Koeman’s side.

Conclusion

This loss will hurt Barcelona, even more so as it strengthens the notion that his team doesn’t show up in big matches. If Koeman’s side wants to be Champions, now is the time to give their all. One cannot ignore the fact that the Blaugrana have a lot of work to do to be deserving of the La Liga title. Whether or not they will be able to do this remains to be seen.

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