With Aston Villa Eager to add some defensive reinforcements and high level experience to their squad in the summer, there’s no doubting the acquisition of Pau Torres from Villarreal has ticked these boxes.
Jumping at the chance to reunite with Unai Emery, who he thrived under at the Yellow Submarine and won the UEFA Europa League in 2021 with, Torres has brought so much to the table on both sides of the ball.
While he’s had some challenging moments since his arrival, most notably when his debut ended in a 5-1 defeat to Newcastle United, the Spanish international has adapted admirably to the Premier League, a process which has unquestionably been streamlined by his familiarity of working with Emery again and knowledge of his tactical philosophy.
“I know Unai Emery well. I know his way to work and coach. He’s a leader. He knows how to bring out the best of every player and that includes me. So when he told me about the project [at Aston Villa], I was really happy with it,” Torres explained.
“With Unai, every player knows their job in detail in every game. So we prepare very well and it makes every player confident, whatever the opposition.”
Showing outstanding judgement and decision making, it’s been impressive how he’s chosen wisely when to step up and play opponents offside and been excellent at operating in both a high line or deeper. The way he’s coherently picked when to drop back, shift across or take on a marking assignment has been notable too.
Attentive, awake to danger due to his frequent scanning and ready to move from his powerful side-on posture, this all ensures he’s well prepared to deal with threats – especially runs in behind, where he needs to be on his game with Villa happy leaving plenty of space between their last line and their goalkeeper. Given he’s not the fastest or most mobile stopper, the aforementioned is crucial towards his success in such demanding situations.
Fulfilling his actions with immense composure and assuredness, his class has been evident in his challenges too, where he’s used his timing, long legs to reach in and strength to outmuscle foes to regain possession proficiently.
Anticipating danger masterfully and reacting accordingly, the way he’s handled a variety of scenarios against a host of different opponents with varying skill sets has been key towards his success.
While he’s a player who’s decent in the air, which his smashing goal vs. Tottenham Hotspur showed, but not as dominant as someone with his frame (stands 191 cm) usually is, he’s a player that is typically in the right place at the right moment in order to win a large chunk of his duels.
Intelligent, positionally sound and picking his battles smartly, there’s no doubting what a valuable defensive presence he’s been.
Torres’ impact has been heavily felt going forward as well, just like it was in Spain, as his technical qualities have meant he’s proven a real game changer in possession for Villa.
To begin with his ball carrying, and he’s relished marauding upfield into space when the opportunity arises. Elegant and using his long legs to canter across the turf, this, in combination with his press resistance and fine judgement, means he’s great at drawing opponents to free up opponents, who can then be accessed directly or via a third man pattern.
Unfazed by challengers, shrewd at using his arms to brush off trackers and with the skills to outfox markers, this aspect of his armoury has been a huge boost to Villa’s build-up.
The 26-year-old’s elite distribution has been equally outstanding, with him using his wand of a left foot on countless occasions to beat the press to inject impetus into attacks.
A player who never appears rushed and as though he has all the time in the world, how he waits for the right option and executes is a pleasure to behold.
Terrific at opening up passing angles and lanes with his left foot and by adjusting his body posture, plus at using his immense vision to know what’s happening around him, Torres has been exceptional at progressing the ball out from the back.
“What he has is very difficult to find. He is going to help us in the build-up. We were playing progressively better with our goalkeeper and our centre-backs. Now it is important for me to try to improve the small details. By adding one player like Pau Torres, I think we can have more options. We can spread one right and one left, with our centre-backs. That is the reason we want one more player in Pau Torres,” Emery insisted when Torres first joined.
Weighting his passes superbly and boasting a marvellous range, this allows him to stamp his mark in many scenarios. Whether striking penetrative line breaking passes, launching raking switches of play, hitting precise through balls over the top or on the ground, there’s so much upside attached to his work here.
By the numbers among Premier League defenders this term, the fact he ranks fifth for dribbles (1.23 dribbles per 90 at 83.33%), eighth for progressive runs (1.92 p90), 10th for progressive passes (9.03 p90), 23rd for offensive duels (1.92 p90 at 75%), 25th for deep completed crosses (0.07p90) and 26th for deep completions (0.27 p90) indicates what a solid start to life he’s enjoyed at Villa Park.
Signing for an initial €32.5 million, this relatively minimal fee in today’s game is certainly looking like money well spent at this point, for the multifaceted Torres has been a key driving force within Emery’s team.
“I felt it was another step in my career. Last season when he arrived, he changed the team. He made them improve, so they could now play in Europe – he made such a big step for Villa.
“Mine and Unai’s relationship is good. We won the first trophy in the history of Villarreal with the Europa League. In his career, he has four Europa Leagues. He’s a leader, and he always knows the best way for the team. He knows how to bring the best out of me. He’s so important.”
Proving to be a perfect fit and definitely emerging as one of the signings of the season so far, Torres first foray into the English top flight has been extremely positive, as he’s found an ideal environment to shine under a coach he knows so well.
Adapting wonderfully and with the only way appearing to be up for him and this high-flying Villa, watching to see if he maintains his level will make for intriguing viewing. But all the signs are there that he’ll be just fine, for he’s got the experience, mental strength, level-headedness and is familiar with juggling domestic and European football.
All credit to Villa for acquiring his services, as his capture has been nothing short of a masterstroke.