It became clear after the 2018 World Cup that Spain needed to transition into a new generation. While they made it out the group stage, unlike in 2014, the round of 16 exit to Russia was a sign of how a country which set the footballing zeitgeist for the best part of a decade could eke no more out of the crop that won three successive major tournaments between 2008 and 2012.
Pau Torres is one of the players expected to help Spain through this transition, with the 24-year-old set to be one of Luis Enrique’s starters at Euro 2020 this summer. Before that, the Villarreal centre back will face Arsenal in the semi-finals of the Europa League. All this amid persistent speculation linking him with a move to Manchester United.
“It’s a pride to see that your work is reflected in these kind of things that are talked about,” Torres reflected recently on the transfer gossip. “But I face it with a lot of calm, I’m in a great club like Villarreal, and from the tranquillity, I work every day. I’m not thinking about [leaving] either, there’s still a long way to go and my short-term objectives are the European semi-final and then to be available for the national team.”
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Indeed, this could be the start of a big summer for Torres. Europa League glory with Villarreal followed by a strong Euro 2020 for Spain would underline his status as one of the most sought after players in the game right now. Villarreal could demand a higher transfer fee for their prized asset and United might not be the only ones willing to pay it.
Torres is the modern centre back Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs as a partner for Harry Maguire. As a natural left-footer, he would bring some much-needed balance to United’s backline, allowing Maguire to shift over to the right side of the defence, where he is more comfortable.
Like most defenders these days, Torres is comfortable on the ball and capable of bringing it out from the back, another quality that would ease the burden on Maguire, who isn’t so adept high up the pitch. Most importantly, though, Torres is quick. This would instantly mask so many of the defensive issues that have dogged United under Solskjaer.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and even Real Madrid, who have been among those linked, could do with a defender of such natural ability. Torres might not possess the intangible gladiator spirit of either Gerard Pique or Sergio Ramos, but he is Spain’s next great centre back.
Mikel Arteta will need to find a way to stem Torres’ runs out from defence on Thursday night. This is key to the way Villarreal play – he has a higher progressive runs per 90 minutes rate than any other centre back in La Liga this season. Whoever leads the line for Arsenal in the Europa League sem-final must press from the front.
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Torres’ vision and technical ability also allows him to bypass the midfield anchor with a 20 or 30-yard pass into a more attack-minded creator, usually Dani Parejo for Villarreal. Unai Emery’s team plays with a slow tempo, but they are far from predictable. This is where Torres is important.
Those who have watched Torres over the last two seasons will be aware of all this, but the Europa League latter rounds and Euro 2020 could see the 24-year-old reach another level. Whether or not this culminates in a summer transfer to Manchester United, or somewhere else, Torres is set for a pivotal period in his still burgeoning career.
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