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Lucas Torreira

Atlético Madrid, 2020–

Profile
After a promising start at Arsenal that included a goal in the north London derby against Tottenham, Lucas Torreira’s game time and influence faded and, after two years at the Emirates Stadium, he joined Atlético Madrid on loan for the duration of 2020/21. His energy and tenacity appear to make him well-suited to Diego Simeone’s style of play, though while he will be in his new manager’s plans, Atlético have no option to buy the midfielder once his loan expires. It may therefore be that Arsenal benefit most from his year in Spain – even if the benefit is merely in his value increasing should they decide to sell.

“He is a very hard-working boy, we are going to need him,” Diego Simeone’s said. “He competes very well, he will give us a lot of strength there in the middle of the court. From his first day here he showed he is a guy who is going to give absolutely everything. Hopefully we will see his best form.”

Tactical analysis
Torreira is comfortable in possession, at his best making passes with his stronger right foot, and is effective when playing forwards through or over lines of the opposition’s structure. He has the ability to split opponents with pinpoint passing, but does not dominate and control matches with the volume of passes that Andrea Pirlo or Sergio Busquets would make.

Although he has the technical qualities to do that role and to provide the link between defence and attack with lots of short passes, he often remains static after releasing the ball. Torreira’s game is therefore far more suited to a direct playing style, rather than sustained periods with the ball. He is also occasionally guilty of holding on to the ball for too long and can be a target for counter-pressing. Getting caught in possession has had an effect on his decision making, and he consequently looks to quickly move the ball out of his feet to make a pass to an advanced teammate, or to players positioned in the spaces to the sides of central midfield.

He is constantly alert to any potential loss of possession and is always ready for a defensive transition, which may explain why he rarely follows his passes forwards and risks leaving a gap that can be exploited by the opposition. He displays good reading of the game, and as well as making lots of interceptions, Torreira is quick to support a teammate when they collect a loose ball, offering a fast, safe passing option away from pressure that can secure possession for his team. By maintaining a position behind the ball, he often blocks off any central counter-attacks, at the very least discouraging the opposition from progressing through the middle of the pitch merely through his positioning.

His ball-winning ability is extremely useful when he plays in a side that presses aggressively and requires a combative central midfield unit; he is incredibly tenacious in trying to win the ball back. If he is beaten, Torreira will hunt his opponent down and do his utmost to get goal-side of the ball to slow their attack.

That quality is most evident during defensive transitions, when he acts in a similar way to Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté, pressing with both intelligence and aggression (above), and curving his run to reduce the options for his opponent to pass their way out of trouble.

Role at Atlético Madrid
Torreira has played as half of the central midfield pairing in Simeone’s flat 4-4-2 structure, in which his primary function is defensive. He makes movements out of their midfield line to press his direct opponent and delay their progress (below), with Simeone’s side well-drilled in narrowing their midfield line when an individual jumps out. Constant pressure on the ball carrier and compactness is maintained, also creating more opportunities for his team to win the ball.

When Torreira doesn’t win possession in that kind of situation, he will usually force play wide, encouraging opponents to attack around the outside of Atlético’s compact structure, which is exactly what Simeone wants from his team. Torreira is then quick to retreat and recover back into central midfield, allowing their wider midfielders to spread and, if necessary push out to press the new ball carrier.

Sometimes Torreira will needlessly go to ground in an attempt to win the ball too hastily, and that can jeopardise his entire team’s set-up. Although that doesn’t happen at all often, one player out of sync in a low block like Atlético’s can create enough space for an opposing attacker to progress centrally, even if that rarely happens against Simeone’s side.

During their own spells of possession, Atlético’s centre-backs and central midfielders often create a box (below), and from his position Torreira plays a key role during transitions. With both full-backs allowed to move forwards, he and his midfield partner are required to cover both central and wide threats when Atlético lose possession. It is in those situations when Torreira is arguably at his best, when his energy and dynamism is crucial to him being able to quickly negate an opposition’s counter-attack.

It appears as though Torreira has been instructed to pass the ball wide, with Atlético generally building around opponents. Due to the advanced positions of their full-backs, many of Torreira’s forward passes are directed wide, either for their full-backs to run on to or to feet if they have already made their move. He does not follow his passes upfield, and remains in front of his centre-backs, with his central midfield partner – often Koke – more willing to move forward and support attacks.

Torreira rarely plays vertical passes, and will often look to find Koke with a short pass; the two of them have built a good understanding, with Torreira indicating the type of ball that Koke should play with his passes to his midfield partner. Both know that switches of play to their full-backs are often options, and Torreira will try to play his passes to Koke in a way that demonstrates that option.

Although one of their centre-forwards often drops between the lines to receive a pass from central midfield, Uruguay’s Torreira hasn’t played many of the vertical, opposition-splitting passes that were seen in abundance at Sampdoria. Instead he tends to play far less adventurously, which is likely to be the influence of Simeone.

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