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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

Ronald Koeman starts to find the pieces to Barça’s jigsaw

Dario Poggi

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Header Image by David Ramos via Getty Images

While the whole Europe has started or is approaching to start their respective national campaigns, Ronald Koeman is trying to find the right system to display his force as soon as the La Liga season starts for Barça in about a week. But with the Nàstic and Girona friendlies already on the Dutch manager’s stomach, has he already found the right men to do the job?


As Barcelona’s start of the season finally approach, after the team had more rest days due to the late Champions League ending, it is fair to underline how its newest manager, new coach Ronald Koeman is still trying to find the right notes to complete the symphony. A symphony that is yet to be completed and to be refined, but certainly one that has been quickly asserting the right tracks under its belly.

This year’s preseason has been an unknown for all professional sports out there, with many having to occur in faster, soarer training sessions than usual. While the fitness aspect of it all will probably be the main cause of differences this season, as fitness coaches had to reduce the workloads and increase speed sessions to keep the players fresh and ready, the managers’ job will be much harder in terms of creating the right harmony and cohesion in a short period of time. There is no enough time to practice the desired movements, tactical systems and other structural aspects of a team’s in-pitch organisation.

Barça, apart from an athletic routine that hasn’t much been under scrutiny in recent history due to the club’s different values, had a few more problems to cope with. Lionel Messi‘s transfer saga, the motion of no confidence against president Josep Maria Bartomeu, a new manager, a strange signings strategy – both in and out of the club –, and more. In all the chaos that Barcelona is right now, Koeman’s job has been much harder than what it could have been under normal circumstances. Still, the Dutchman is slowly finding his rhythm with the team.

Ronald Koeman Barça system

Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona is taking shape | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images

One of the biggest tactical unknowns of Koeman’s appointment was whether he was going to keep Barça’s vintage 4–3–3 system, or if he was going to change it in a 4–2–3–1, due to his own preferences and the team’s characteristics. After very much debating between fans and pundits, the first two friendlies of Barça’s short preseason gave the environment the answer it was looking for: 4–2–3–1.

While the tactical system is different from the culés‘ traditional one, Koeman’s mentality and footballing ideas are far from being the opposite of Barça’s. Offensive, intense and vertical football are a must for Barcelona’s expectations as much as Koeman’s interpretations. There is a perfect binomial conduction between the club and its new employee.

Football in preseason is as much a test for all the players in a team’s roaster as a training to keep the legs rolling and the lungs filling the air. So were the recent friendlies against Nàstic de Tarragona and Girona. As expected, Koeman literally played eleven different players per half in both games, with a few changes in the last one. And as the coach was varying things and changing the pieces of the puzzle, you could already see the ideas, the movements, the principles that he wanted to give to the team.

As many distressed fans have already noticed, the defence that suffered eight goals against Bayern Munich has not changed a bit. While it may seem discouraging for some, having such individual qualities at the back paired with some solid and correct defensive training may end up being the best signing Barça could do to improve its backline.

With Marc-André ter Stegen on its way back to recovery after surgery, Neto will be the only difference in Barcelona’s defence this season, with lack of competition from the bench arising. At least, as long as Manchester City keeps its firm stand on the Eric García situation and Sergiño Dest doesn’t move to the Camp Nou.

With a proven-to-be two-man midfield in Barça’s new squad, a Koeman favourite will certainly find his place game in, game out: Frenkie de Jong. As the same manager told upon his arrival, it is a shame to watch players like De Jong – and Antoine Griezmann – in unusual positions, as they will not perform at the levels they are expected to.

“The plan is to start playing Frenkie de Jong in the position that he plays with the national team as well. I remember attending a Barcelona game and I saw him play a position where I wouldn’t play him as a coach. You’ve spent a lot of money on a young player. You should then play him in his own position, where he can perform in a way you’d expect from him. He has shown at Ajax and with the Dutch national team which position suits him best and that is where he will be playing at Barcelona as well”

Ronald Koeman

With De Jong‘s place not being threatened by anyone else except himself, it is expected from Riqui Puig and Carles Aleñá to provide that support quality and solutions from the bench or, in some cases, to perform in an eventual three-man midfield, with Puig being hierarchically higher than the former Real Betis loanee.

Next to De Jong is a position that is going to be fought for the whole length of the season: Sergio Busquets’ intelligence or Miralem Pjanić‘s quality? With an ageing Busquets, it will be the first time in twelve years that his place will be under severe scrutiny by the club, as years go by and fresher legs come in place. But while the Bosnian’s quality will be very much needed throughout the entire season, Busquets’ tactical awareness is going to be a solid piece of refinery yet again.

Slowly approaching Barça’s biggest guns, it is no secret that the Catalan’s team offensive overbooking is going to keep several doors open throughout the whole season. Having the freedom of two players per position is a manager’s dream, but while it may be a benefit, it is also a challenge to keep the team balanced and the moods paced.

With the signings of two youngsters such as Francisco Trincão and Pedri, both incredibly bright against Nàstic and Girona, Barcelona’s wide game takes a big jump in terms of volume, youth and creativity. But with Luis Suárez’s mysterious future under supervision, the seniority of Barça’s main man upfront will take its advantage overall. At least initially.

“I liked Trincão positionally, sometimes coming inside and sometimes going outside. He has the quality and has to adapt to the speed and rhythm. He’s a great signing”

Ronald Koeman, on Francisco Trincão after the 3–1 win over Nàstic last Saturday

Apart from Ansu Fati, who is already considered a senior throughout the whole footballing world, Messi and Antoine Griezmann seem to be Koeman’s main men for the central roles up top: as much as they will both exchange their positions, the Argentinian is destined to take the playmaking role, while the French World Cup winner will move around him and try to create spaces and finish chances for the team.

Besides Barça’s business, Philippe Coutinho is another player to have returned to the blaugrana headquarters. Full of determination, he will look to prove himself once and for all where he wanted to be ever since his Liverpool days. With similar motives to the Brazilian’s, but with different sources, Ousmane Dembélé is approaching the start of a defining season for him: either he proves to be world-class or he goes home. And with the explosion of Ansu Fati and the incredible talent he brings to the field, those three may feature in most of Barça’s games in this start of the season. Ansu Fati’s injury permitting, of course. However, Trincão and Pedri’s talents may change many’s minds, Koeman’s included.

“He [Pedri] is a great talent. He’s 17 and such an important signing for our future. He has trained with us and has the quality to play, so we’ll see how much he can take part”

RONALD KOEMAN, AFTER beating NÀSTIC LAST SATURDAY

Ronald Koeman is slowly finding the pieces to solve this incredibly difficult puzzle that Barça appears to be. It is going to take more than just a few friendlies and a few good performances to overturn the season’s predictions around Barcelona’s offices. That is why players are tools for a team to perform. You can have better or worse ones. But the mentality and the identity of a team’s way of playing are principles much more important for a club’s success in the pitch.

It is no surprise that, perhaps, the most positive aspect of the new Barça’s performances over the course of the first two friendlies has not been a single player, a chance created or a defensive movement. Instead, it has been the intensity of the team’s ball movement mixed with those two, maximum three, touches per player.

The path to Barcelona’s native brilliance is long and hard, but having the right mindset to attack this jigsaw is the best strategy that the Dutch manager could employ. One idea, 4–2–3–1, eleven optimal choices and the highest intensity possible. Step by step, game after game, Koeman’s Barça will surface. With patience. And, as in microeconomics when supply meets demand, in football, when principles meet practicality, the puzzle is solved.

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