Ahead of the 2018 World Cup finals, OptaPro profiles some of the players who have the potential to make a significant impact on the tournament. This first article focuses on Lucas Torreira, of Uruguay and Sampdoria.
Uruguay: a South American nation that continues to provide the footballing world with top-quality players even with its relatively modest population of 3.4 million. This latest generation are making waves and the likes of Giorgian De Arrascaeta and Federico Valverde have gained attention over recent months, however this analysis focuses on defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira, currently plying his trade at Sampdoria in Serie A.
Torreira’s career began in Uruguay at Montevideo Wanderers and was soon spotted and moved to Europe to join Italian side Pescara and has been likened to a former player from the club; Marco Verratti. This season Torreira has been a fixture in the Sampdoria side, missing only two matches and appearing for 3184 minutes – only 21 players were on the field for longer in Serie A this year.
Standing at 5’5, the holding midfielder makes a much bigger impact across the pitch than his stature suggests.
Making things happen
Torreira has made the most ball recoveries (296) in Serie A this season. ‘Picking up the pieces’ – something the midfielder did over eight times per game – is a telling reinforcement of his intelligent positioning, and ability to get himself in the right position at the right time, time after time.
Typically expected from a deep lying midfielder, Torreira frequently receives the ball from his two centre backs (no other position passes to him more often), and is a crucial cog in the Sampdoria machine when it comes to building attacks, making 61.8 passes per game. Only Matias Silvestre is making more in this Sampdoria side.
Taking the ball from the centre halves is one thing, but launching sustained, dangerous attacks is another. Torreira was involved in 118 sequences that ended in a shot this season (the same as fellow midfielder Dennis Praet). Only Quagliarella, in a much more advanced position, was involved in more for Sampdoria.
Further video analysis allows us to investigate Torreira in more detail, and supports the view that he is a positive, forward-thinking footballer. Receiving the ball from his centre backs - often on the half turn - Torreira is one who is not afraid to drive forward into space, often lending the ball to a team mate and drops off a few yards to receive it back before looking to the other side of the pitch to continue the fluid possession.
For all his work defensively and with the ball, Torreira is not a regular shot taker, attempting 33 shots (including blocks) all season and five of these were direct free kicks, from which he scored two. While scoring 40% of free kicks is certainly impressive, it is also something that may be unlikely to continue at its current rate, and not something that Uruguay should perhaps rely too strong on throughout the tournament.
Like many in his position, Torreira’s shooting is often from range, epitomised by his 1.4xG season total. While it is often not the best tactic to shoot from range, this summer Torreira will have Suarez and Cavani in front of him, it will be interesting to note whether the midfielder will still take on these opportunities, or look to supply to the two dangermen.
Without the ball
Torreira’s mobility is his strength, being able to cover the lower middle third and defensive third with relative ease. From all players in the Serie A with a minimum of 2000 minutes, Torreira ranks 6th in tackles made per game (2.85), just one place behind fellow teammate Dennis Praet. His ability to read the game, anticipate the next pass is supported by ranking in the top 20 across the league in interceptions.
With Uruguay hopeful of progressing to the knockout stages, Torreira could find himself tested against the likes of Spain or Portugal as the tournament develops. The young player only broke into the national setup earlier this year, so securing a starting position will be his first challenge.