Pau Torres, the 23-year-old centre-back currently plying his trade at Villarreal, has already earned a Spanish national cap and managed to score on his debut also. He has been linked with a summer transfer away from Villarreal. Barcelona amongst the suitors who would like to add him to their ranks.
A gracious yet imposing centre-back, with a high ceiling to become a top defender. This tactical analysis will explore the talents of Pau Torres in the form of a scout report. One that assesses what he does so well individually, but also as he continues to produce assured displayed within the system and tactics of a Villarreal side that currently sits at eighth in the league.
Role at Villarreal
Shifting from the 4-4-2 system that was used so religiously under Fran Escribá and Marcelino. Javier Calleja has added new impetus into the Villarreal side generally lining up now in a 4-1-4-1 system. Splitting the central defenders wide with the holding midfielder; usually, Vicente Iborra to cover the space between the two.
The average position for the season image below shows that Villarreal often relies on the width of their full-backs. Their average position is progressive within the opposition half and is always looking to get themselves higher up the pitch. In turn, this creates an overload in the central areas where the likes of Santi Cazorla, Manu Trigueros, and Samuel Chukwueze can take advantage of the numbers inside and dictate opportunities for the side.
Torres’ role per Calleja’s tactics is to act as the spatial stopper on the left-hand side of the defense. He is to cover the space between himself and his left-back and to retreat into areas where he can get rid of the ball using his height to get on the end of headers or using his long legs to get on the end of crosses.
On the left-hand side of the two centre-backs, being left-footed, he provides balance in the build-up and construction of plays. Being able to pass the ball into the left-back or left midfielder on his stronger foot means the ball can be played out faster from the back and he is more comfortable in possession on the ball in high-pressure situations on that side than would be of a right-footed defender.
Looking at his heat map below, you can see he operates heavily on the left-hand side, occasionally venturing to the central areas of the pitch. His foremost task is to cover that left-hand side and distribute the ball from the left corner with diagonal passes or vertical passes up-field to the left-winger or opposing full-back.
Confident in possession with the ball, Pau Torres also shows strong tackling ability and with a mature football IQ allowing him to understand and adapt to situations. Where he comes out as the successor in duels, It’s not hard to understand why he has sought after.
At 6’3 and 80kg the stature of Torres is definitely an imposing figure that can certainly dominate opposition players from a physical standpoint. However, rather than relying on just his physical attributes to win situations, he mentally he is able to apply himself to the situations and use the best decision possible. Rather than being rash and naive in challenges, he is very adept at winning his defensive duels without impeding himself.
The sequence of images below is an example of how he uses a measured approach alongside his physical presence to affect the game defensively. The Leganes attacker starts off in an advanced position in comparison to Torres; who isn’t the quickest player.
Yet, as he approaches over to the defender instead of challenging for the ball and possibly conceding a free-kick he gets in front of him and shows him back towards his own goal. Moving away from advancing towards the Villarreal box. The continuity of this jockeying gradually makes the attacker retreat further up the pitch.
By this time, however, two more Villarreal players have reached the vicinity of the player and possession is managed to be won back by Villarreal. Torres comes away with the ball and the possession can now be recycled into another attack for Villarreal with possession safely in their half.
The consistency of Torres in these situations is clear to see when his stats are provided for analysis. Facing the challenge of 5.22 defensive duels a game Torres is successful in 76.6% of them. A better percentage than the likes of Real Madrid defender rSergio Ramos (70.1%) and Gerard Pique (62.7%). A fitting statistic seeing as those two players, in particular, is the direct competition for him in the national side for major tournaments.
Further analysis shows that Torres is adept at winning almost half (48.3%) of his 3.55 aerial duels a game, a feat that he can definitely improve on, should he develop more aggressiveness to his game, but it stands at already a decent foundation for him to build on.
The art of defending
The scout report at an earlier stage mentioned the capacity of Torres and his IQ in understanding what he is needed to do for the betterment of the team in defensive situations. His reading of the game is not of someone at the age of 23 years old.
Being able not only to mark and cover areas before the danger has been created, but also to do so without having to exert himself, concede fouls and pick up bookings.
A misconception that is usually thrown at tall defenders is that they rarely tend to slide tackle. In some instances this may be true but not in all. Torres at 6”3 doesn’t tend to engage in slide tackles at all during games averaging 0.12 slide tackles a game with a 0% success rate. Which, suggests that the challenges in which he is making in these situations are ones of desperation.
The gold standard of defending Paolo Maldini has been quoted many times saying “If I have to make a tackle then I have already made a mistake” a testament to which Torres’ game seems to follow suit. His lack of slide tackles is an indication that he has never really found himself in an exposing situation where there are necessary.
Furthermore, his defensive awareness and marking are another reason as to why his tackles aren’t always needed during games. The image below shows that the attacker for Leganes (19) is chasing the loose ball ahead of him. The closest player to him in this scenario would be Torres.
However, understanding that he isn’t the quickest and he will be second best to the ball. He runs to his left and into a central position to cover the space of the following striker making his way up the pitch in the chance a cross does come in and he can deal with it accordingly.
Again in the image below, Torres has a decision to make. Either mark the central area and player (27) and clear the cross if it comes into the penalty area. Or be ready to pursue the attacker (19) on his right shoulder if the ball is played in between Torres and the left-back Moreno.
Rather than taking the gamble of pursuing the attacker, Torres continues to engage in the space of the penalty area and should the latter option be taken be ready to clear the ball once it’s been out into the box.
In instances where he is caught out of position, like in the example below. He stepped forward believing the rest of the line would too, as he misjudged the line the Bilbao striker was able to run in behind him and he’s caught on the backfoot.
However, he’s able to recover and keep pace with the striker and ultimately clears the cross that was incoming with an assured header away from imminent danger.
Rather than operating in a fashion where he aims to attack the ball off a players first touch or off a loose ball. Torres will drop off and mark the space behind which he can clear the ball from danger. This approach to his game has seen Torres average 5.99 interceptions per 90 and 10.77 recoveries as well as 3.75 clearances. His duties are more so to get rid of the danger than to engage with the player who is creating the danger.
How Villarreal benefits from his play is that the players in wider positions with the extra yard of pace in comparison to Torres can apply a more aggressive approach to the opposition and press in positions away from the Villarreal box. With an impetus to win the ball back higher up the pitch. Yet, if a cross does come in or passes need to be cut out, Torres is more than capable dealing with these situations and relay the ball to a teammate.
Elegance on the ball
As Villarreal ranks fourth in the league for passes generated per 90 with 433.69 it is paramount that the players in the side are above adequate when it comes to passing the ball. A quality that Pau Torres has seemingly grown into as the course of the season has progressed.
While on loan at Malaga last season, Torres attempted around 40.39 passes per 90 with an 84.9% accuracy. With 7.82 long passes played per game (51.8% accuracy) and 16.44 forward passes per 90 with 71.7% accuracy.
Torres showed glimpses of his passing ability and playing out the back. Also, his 28.9 received passes he experienced a game showed that teammates found him comfortable in possession of the ball too. Being able to collect the ball and distribute it accurately to another teammate.
In his first full season with his parent club, his numbers in terms of accuracy have progressed slightly, but we can see a drastic change in the volume of passes that he is distributing in comparison to the previous year. Creating a higher level of accuracy on more attempted passes is no easy feat.
Now averaging 55.26 passes per game with 86.2% accuracy shows he has adjusted to the heavily reliant passing style of Villarreal with a high level of accuracy. His long passing 9.13 (53.1% accuracy) and forward passes 23 (75% accuracy) have also increased with and respectively meaning that he has increased the number of passes that he attempts during each game but that he also manages a higher completion percentage of his passes too.
Highlighting his long passes, Torres includes a lot of variation in the direction and level of depth to his passes showing his capability and willingness to adapt to the current climate of the game.
The first example below is a highlight of his cross-field pass. Showing excellent composure to break away for the attacker closing down on him, Torres is then able to play a near 50-metre pass from byline to byline to the Villarreal right-back.
By being able to confidently act under pressure and play this sort of path to the right back on the other side of the field, demonstrates the trust in the team he has, but also the dependency of his passing.
Another variation of his passing qualities is a vertical pass up to the left-winger. Cutting under the ball to lift over the opposition in an effort to set the left-winger free, is another example of Torres’ passing ability, by doing this it bypasses the midfield and gets the ball further up the pitch allowing midfielders like the former Arsenal man, Santi Cazorla to progress up the field to be involved in the play in more dangerous areas of the field.
Receiving the ball 38.01 times a game, Torres is placed with the ball more than the likes of Raul Albiol and Vicente Iborra. The metronome Santi Cazorla receives 40.59 passes per 90 showing the importance that Pau Torres has in dealing with the ball under pressure but also being able to aid the construction of plays.
This scout report has aimed to highlight the attributes of why Torres has been so sought after this season. Showcasing his incredible maturity and IQ in understanding where he can be most effective in situations that occur during games, Torres has shown to be a capable defender in his first full season in the premier division of Spanish football.
With a few improvements and changes to his game; some assertive aggression and consistency when it comes to aerial battles, he could really leave his mark during games. It may come as a season too early for a move to a big club and staying at Villarreal for one more season may allow him the time and absence of pressure to really take control of himself as a defender as well as build the consistency needed to be a top player.
However, should a club take the punt on securing his services this summer, then they will have a fine defender on their hands with the potential to be the next starting centre-back for years to come for the national side or at least in the conversation.