Manchester City, 2020–
Pep Guardiola could have had a challenge on his hands when it came to managing the game time of the many hugely exciting prospects at Manchester City, given how many established figures there already are in his squad. Ferran Torres, who is in the same age group as – and played youth football against – Phil Foden, is among the brightest prospects in European football, and Guardiola deserves praise for exposing him to sufficient first-team football that his progress has not been hampered.
In 2020/21 – his first season at City – and aged 21, Ferran started 15 Premier League games and scored seven goals in an important supporting role as his team won the title. “It is his first season in England and his numbers are exceptional,” said Guardiola. “He came as a winger, but he can be a number nine. The smell – the strikers know intuitively where the ball will arrive. He has that talent.”
Ferran is a talented attacking midfielder who is extremely capable in possession, and who marries that talent with a desire to improve and succeed – the driving force behind his rapid rise. He plays in an advanced position on the right more often than anywhere else, but is equally comfortable on the left, or as a number 10 playing through the middle or off a centre-forward.
He constantly seeks space, often by staying wide and hugging the touchline, but if the ball isn’t coming his way or he sees a gap to run into he will happily move infield. When a teammate advances through midfield with the ball or a defender steps out of defence with it, he often makes a sudden, diagonal run off the wing and towards goal to try and receive in behind (below). It is his instinct to try and find a route towards goal at every opportunity; whenever he receives the ball, he looks to turn on it and to progress play.
When he receives to feet out wide and in space, he likes to dribble diagonally towards his direct opponent and then will either look to combine with a player in a central position or, having isolated his opposing left-back, to attempt to dribble past him. In either case, Ferran’s aim is to get on the ball in the space behind the opposition’s defence and to threaten on goal.
He will also come looking for the ball when he drifts off the touchline, and he is happy to link play by setting it back to the passer or another teammate in a deep position, but again it remains his aim to progress play. He is consistently aware of what is around him and where there exists space to try and exploit, and after a backwards pass, he will turn and try and get into space further forwards (below).
If he has space to turn and try to play forwards immediately, he will often try to. He also has such good close control that he can quickly shift the ball and turn to face goal, and will swiftly nudge the ball to a teammate as an opponent approaches or tries to win the ball. His is a high-risk approach that can result in his team progressing forwards quickly but that also results in numerous turnovers; it helps that Ferran is effective and enthusiastic at counter-pressing, and can win the ball back high up the pitch if it is lost.
His eagerness to come looking for the ball and his willingness to receive passes in tight areas is useful in that he draws opponents towards the ball and creates space elsewhere for teammates, and is then good at remaining aware of where that space is. He often positions himself to receive in the area between a central defender and full-back, with the intention of forcing one of them to move towards him, before scanning around him so that he knows which player has approached him and where there is space to exploit. Doing so is particularly useful when he has the freedom to roam the final third and to try to draw opponents with him.
Role at Manchester City
City change formation regularly, and Ferran has therefore featured in a number of roles, but he is most often deployed towards the right of a 4-3-3. When he plays there, however, City’s approach will be slightly different to when Riyad Mahrez starts.
Mahrez will hold a wide position, stretching the opposition’s defence as much as possible and looking to receive to feet, and their right-back will move into narrower territory or provide underlapping runs. When Ferran plays, he drifts infield, and the full-back will attack around the outside (below). He is far more comfortable moving into central areas, and his teammates adapt to that.
Ferran has shown impressive maturity and versatility since moving to England by playing to a high standard regardless of his position and the system he is expected to fit into. His skill set – in particular his desire to come looking for the ball and his ability to receive in tight spaces – has led to Guardiola fielding Ferran as a false nine, a role the City manager belives he can play long-term.
City are extremely fluid in possession and Ferran’s movement into deeper territory helps in moving the opposition’s defence around and creating spaces for midfield runners to sprint into. His movement also helps create central overloads before the ball is spread wide for Mahrez, Foden or Raheem Sterling, who can be particularly potent when they have a defender isolated.
Under Guardiola, City are extremely effective at finding a route into the territory to either side of the six-yard box and then playing a ball across goal for someone to finish. When Kevin De Bruyne – the player who has most frequently played as a false nine for City – is their nominal striker they lack a goalscorer to attack the area in front of goal because it is not in the Belgian’s game to target the end of crosses.
Ferran, conversely, makes clever movements close to goal and shows a real striker’s instinct to react to loose balls. He is also versatile and professional enough that he would willingly adapt to whatever Guardiola asks of him, and that will almost certainly guarantee more success in the future.