The armchair scout: Lucas Torreira
I saw a name in the gossip columns. A name I didn’t recognise, but there he was being (spuriously) linked with Arsenal, my club. I decided to google the name, and thus my voyage of discovery began.
I’ve always secretly fancied being a scout, but I’ve lacked the get up and go. Thank God for YouTube compilations and online stat databases then. By the end of this piece I’ll tell you if Arsenal should buy Lucas Torreira.
Position: Central defensive midfielder
So, what – or who – have we here? At first glance, Torreira doesn’t scream “I’m the answer to Arsenal’s longstanding midfield problems.” It’s widely agreed that the Gunners have for some time lacked steel, experience and physicality in the middle of the park and a 5’6” 22-year-old with no Premier League experience is struggling to tick those boxes. After all, we’re still after the new Patrick Vieira, aren’t we?
Or are we? I’m not so sure. I feel football fans get hung up on finding the ‘new version of what we had’. True progress is finding something new in its own right. ‘A new way forward’ – as Arsenal’s own Ivan Gazidis put it when remarking upon the process of replacing Arsène Wenger. If the last decade of being Arsenal should have taught us anything, it’s that what worked then can easily fail now.
So, back to the point; is Lucas Torreira that new way forward? Well, maybe. Here’s what he’s got going for him. At 22 he’s certainly got his best years ahead of him and is still young enough that you can expect him to be able to develop and adapt his game without too much difficulty.
He’s also, over last two seasons, made himself a regular starter for Sampdoria. As the most defensively minded individual in the Sampdoria midfield, Torreira has been given plenty of responsibility within the system. His impressive performances at club level have led to him being selected in Uruguay’s 23-man World Cup squad.
Torreira’s performances translate well in data too, and here it becomes clear just how multifaceted the Uruguayan’s game is. For illustrative purposes I’ve picked Marco Verratti and N’Golo Kanté as models for statistical comparison. I’m not saying Torreira is as good as those two players, but his game in certain respects is formed in their mould.
In the interests of fairness, the following stats refer only to the players’ performances in their respective domestic leagues during the 17/18 season, obtained via WhoScored.com. Here are links to the full statistical profiles of Lucas Torreira, Marco Verratti and N’Golo Kanté – should you wish to take a look for yourselves. All three started a minimum of 20 league games throughout the season. Torreira started 36.
So, let’s begin with the bread and butter defensive numbers - the number of tackles, clearances and interceptions per 90 minutes each player produces:
On average, per game, Lucas Torriera makes 2.8 successful tackles from 4.1 attempted. Likewise, Verratti - 2.3 from 4.3, and Kanté - 3.3 from 5.1.
In terms of clearances, we read: Torreira - 0.9, Verratti - 0.5, and Kanté - 0.8.
In the case of interceptions: Torreira - 2, Verratti - 1.2, and Kanté - 2.5.
Across these three central tenets of defensive midfield play, Torreira stacks up well in good company. Interestingly for a player consistently linked with big money moves, Verratti appears a little underwhelming, but across the board his numbers spike in Champions League games against better opposition.
Of course, winning the ball back and breaking down opponents’ attacks is only one part of the defensive midfielder’s job. With the ball at his feet, Verratti comes into his own and, for me, Kanté’s own distribution abilities are underrated.
When it comes to passes completed per match, Torreira - 60.8, and Kanté - 63.3, fall some way behind Verratti’s average - 92.7. This is of course symptomatic of the kind of possession play that PSG can enforce and it also probably explains the shortfall in Verratti’s defensive numbers – in Ligue 1, he has very little defending to do.
Pass completion % figures actually count for much more than simply the number of passes played. Here we read as: Torreira - 87.2%; Verratti - 91.2%; and Kanté - 89.3%. All three are very impressive in this regard.
The modern defensive midfielder is also expected to help out in the final third. No one is expecting a bagful of goals, but the ability to pass between the lines and move past a man to exploit space is essential at the highest level. Completed dribbles and key passes (passes which lead to the recipient having a shot) per game are a good indicator of these skills.
In terms of dribbles completed per match: Torreira – 1; Verratti – 1.9; and Kanté – 1.4. These dribbling skills can also aid a player in escaping tight situations in a more defensive sense as well, allowing play to build from the back.
In the case of key passes executed: Torreira - 1; Verratti - 1.3; and Kanté - 0.7.
Finally, you expect your defensive midfielder not to play himself into trouble. On average, Lucas Torreira is dispossessed 1 time per game and produces 1.1 poor touches. These figures compare well with Verratti - 1.6/0.9, and Kanté - 1.2/1.3.
Torreira has another weapon in his arsenal that allows him to escape trouble - something he shares with Marco Verratti - they both get fouled a lot. 2.3 and 2.4 times per game respectively (Kanté, in this regard - 0.4).
So, what we have here is a player whose key stats are generally very impressive and consistently very similar (if not exactly at the same level) to those of his more celebrated contemporaries. When accounting for the fact that Torreira is 3 years the junior Verratti and 5 short of Kanté, and has only played two seasons of European football, the stats suggest we have a potentially (if not already) top class player on our hands.
However, ask any hardened old scout and they’ll tell you, the stats teach you nothing compared to actually watching the kid play. Which brings us to…
The YouTube compilation
What can we actually learn from a YouTube compilation? Well, assuming the video is of a decent length, showing games played at a competitive level and displays enough of certain qualities that a pattern can be discerned, then I reckon that such a YouTube compilation can teach us less than we might hope, but more than we might think.
You can find plenty of these Torreira compilations on YouTube. And I did.
If you watch a few you’ll see what the stats amount to. He escapes pressured situations well. He has excellent recovery pace. He’s a tenacious, snappy midfield presence. You also see him getting fouled – a lot – by effectively manoeuvring his body to be between opposition and ball at the crucial moment.
What you don’t see on these compilations however, nor can you glean it from the stats, is how consistently good is his positioning across 90 minutes? Or when Sampdoria are in possession, how regularly can he be relied upon to be in space as an outlet for his team mates?
That is something you can only get from watching a player for an entire game on numerous occasions (I’m a busy guy). Nor can we pass judgement on any of the intangibles, such as a player’s temperament, or other aspects of his character which may inhibit or fuel progress. But, that’s not what armchair scouting is all about, so we’ll disregard those niggling truths for now and press on regardless.
Should Arsenal buy Lucas Torreira?
I promised I would answer this question at the end, and now we come to it.
For me, there are lots of positives to this potential signing. Foremost, he is the kind of mobile, defensively minded midfield presence that the squad currently lacks. Secondly, his age means he’d represent a long-term investment and one of the first steps of the generational squad overhaul that is fast approaching at the Emirates.
The potential price is another positive here. It has been widely reported that Torreira’s current contract with Sampdoria contains a release clause in the region of £22 million.
On the other hand, I can’t help but fret over Torreira’s diminutive stature. Whilst Kanté has proven that a small player can still make an extremely effective Premier League defensive midfielder, it isn’t easy and requires supreme ability elsewhere. What’s more, Torreira’s profile is markedly dissimilar to the other defensive midfielder Arsenal have been heavily linked with, Steven Nzonzi (not to mention, *shudder*, Fellaini). At the very least, this suggests some worryingly muddled thinking on the part of Unai Emery and recruitment staff at Arsenal. Assuming, of course, that any of these reports are true…
Will Arsenal buy Lucas Torreira?
Probably not. Because Arsenal are linked with loads and loads of players and usually we don’t sign them, so the law of averages indicates that Arsenal probably won’t sign Torreira.
The Gunners are aren’t the only club reported to be interested either. Napoli, Everton, Atletico Madrid – you know what, just pick a club, they’ve probably been linked. This smacks of an agent positioning a player to be able demand a better deal from his current club. Any reported desire to seek pastures new could easily be a ruse.
Not only that, should Torreira have a particularly impressive World Cup campaign, you can expect that list of touted suitors to grow. Whilst Torreira’s release clause would remain in principle in such a circumstance, a bidding war between a number of flush clubs could easily take the player beyond Arsenal’s financial reach anyway.
I guess my final question is, would I like to see Arsenal sign Lucas Torreira? Well, in this armchair scout’s decidedly un-expert view, that’d be f**king brilliant mate.