Football Features

Ferran Torres to Barcelona? Four ways Xavi’s attack could line up

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:45, 5 December 2021


Ferran Torres has been strongly and repeatedly linked with a shock January move to Barcelona.

The Manchester City forward looked set to establish himself as one of the key members of Pep Guardiola’s attack this season, and he enjoyed a bright beginning, starting in each of the club’s first seven matches. He was then dropped, then picked up an injury on international duty, and it has now emerged he is looking to move back to La Liga to join Barcelona.

“It’s not my business, you have to go to Txiki [Begiristain, director of football] or the agent of Ferran Torres, or Barcelona, I’m not the guy to talk about it,” said Guardiola when he was quizzed on the matter. But by naming some key players in this transfer saga so openly, Guardiola all but confirmed the rumours, which allege that Barca are keen to bring him to Catalonia in order to bolster their threadbare attack.

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The cash-strapped club have quietly put together a very promising young squad but with Martin Braithwaite’s injury and Sergio Aguero’s heart condition, they are short of forwards, and goalscorers in particular. Hence the immediate pursuit of 21-year-old Torres.

The Spaniard has 16 goals in 43 games for Manchester City, impressive for a player who only features sporadically, while he boasts a quite incredible 12 goals in 22 games for Spain, including a hat-trick against Germany, and a brace against Italy. You can see why they’d want him, but how could his arrival impact the way they line-up? We’ve had a look at four ways Xavi ‘s Barcelona could shape up should he capture Torres in January.

The Dream

When at full-strength, the addition of Torres would make Barcelona’s starting XI quite intimidating. As a player of immense promise and tactically flexibility, his ability to offer a genuine goalscoring threat whilst also dovetailing with Ansu Fati as he peels off the left flank would give opposition defenders huge problems.

Not to mention they would have to contend with the human rocket that is Ousmane Dembele wide on the right, and Memphis Depay coming off the bench, and the world-class midfield of Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong as well as Kopa Trophy and Golden Boy winner Pedri. And then if they were able to break Barcelona’s press, the staggeringly brilliant Ronald Araujo lies in wait.

However, the reality of Barcelona’s situation means that this XI would be very unlikely to see the light of day. Pedri’s overuse last season (73 games played at 17 and 18 years of age!) was almost criminal, and has resulted in his 2021/22 being loaded with muscular injuries that he will probably suffer with for the entirety of this season until he can be given an extended period of rest next summer.

Meanwhile Dembele is famously injury prone and, more than that, is six months away from leaving Barcelona at the end of his contract. Xavi has previously insisted that Dembele could be one of the best in the world if coached properly, but it looks increasingly likely that if he is to make good on his utterly immense potential, he won’t do so at Barcelona.

The Reality

The addition of Torres to Barcelona would mean that even a realistic XI that doesn’t feature the mercurial Dembele would still carry an incredible level of threat. While Torres is nowhere near as fast or dangerous a dribbler, he is better in tight spaces and when drifting narrow would provide a serious goal threat, certainly more so than Dembele.

With Torres doing this, the potential for Frenkie de Jong or Sergino Dest to surge by him on the overlap means that Barcelona won’t ever be short of width. Meanwhile Depay is a capable fulcrum in attack, allowing Torres and Fati to both function as alternating inside forwards. Torres and Fati’s intelligence means that they will know that when one cuts in, the other holds wide.

Meanwhile in midfield Pedri’s absence is filled by the equally miraculous Gavi. The tenacious twinkle-toed teen titan can battle with his best of them. He’s still just 17 but has already bested the Italian and French midfields, including Marco Verratti, Jorginho and Paul Pogba.

At the back the team would function as usual for Barcelona (albeit only one of the full-backs would attack at a time to retain defensive structure) with Pique’s leadership balanced by Araujo’s ability to actually defend all phases of play. Gerard Pique is now where Rafa Marquez was in 2009 and if Eric Garcia could get out of his own way then the legend would find himself out of the XI.

The Cruyff

If Xavi was significantly unimpressed with his full-backs, or they were both injured, or he simply wanted to overload the midfield and control the tempo of a game, he could call on a very Cruyffian 3-3-1-3, which he already has this season against Benfica.

This shape is loaded with risk, but central to its success is that midfield diamond (or square). The back three is spread wider than usual, with the gaps between them plugged by midfielders if need be. In an ideal world Barcelona would be able to play Araujo as the middle defender covering everyone and Garcia on the right, but, well, it’s not an ideal world.

The midfield quartet sees Gavi added alongside De Jong, Pedri and Busquets, and their rotation both in terms of pushing up to press while spacing themselves to provide numerical superiority when in and out of possession is the lifeblood of this side. Despite being a diamond, the key for this midfield is to form as many triangles as possible across the pitch to aid control.

In attack, Fati should be spared the hard running of the wing role and allowed to be the mobile, sharp-eyed goalscorer. Torres fills one of the wing roles superbly while Dembele (ideally) or Jordi Alba (more realistically) has the other. Here Torres’ versatility comes to the fore as he is able to stay wide and play the role like a traditional winger, providing crosses into the box.

The Kids

Barcelona picked the best time to go broke in the summer of 2021, as the combination of La Masia and some astute signings had already given them a squad loaded with an obscene amount of young talent. There is so much young quality available to Xavi for selection that, if Torres arrives, he can field a competitive side entirely comprised of u-23 players.

In goal Inaki Pena is, at 22, the oldest player here but a capable stopper who is solid with his feet. And coming up behind him is the even more highly regarded Arnau Tenas, so Ter Stegen better keep his wits about!

Araujo and Dest retain their spots from the starting side, but the 32 year-old Jordi Alba is replaced by a teenage Alejandro Balde. The young full-back is fast and fearless and, as he already showed against Bayern Munich, can do damage to the best of them. Meanwhile Garcia isn’t the best, but he has immense potential so as long as he can hit the gym so he doesn’t get knocked down by a gust of wind, he could make an excellent partner to Araujo at the back for at least a decade.

The midfield is transformed with even the young De Jong ‘too old’ for this side. However, such is Barcelona’s strength in depth that this midfield is still obscenely talented, with rough-and-tumble prodigy Nico Gonzalez coming in to play at the base of midfield. Nico isn’t quite the passer Busquets is but has a more robust physical presence and will help cover for the magnificent Gavi and Pedri, allowing them to wreak havoc on opponents with their incredible combination of dribbling, passing, vision, tactical intelligence and big-game bottle.

The attack looks much the same with Fati and Torres keeping their places and being joined by Abde Ezzalzouli; the young Moroccan winger is fast, physical and loves to drive down the outside of opponents, making him perfect to play in Xavi’s system that demands width from the wingers. Fati can of course provide width too but will be better cutting infield where Torres’ intelligence, goal threat and pressing presence should be the key off which the entire attack functions.

Torres joining Barcelona would provide just the spark that the Catalan club need in attack to solidify Xavi’s new project, turning the team from a promising collection of young players into a side that could genuinely and realistically compete for honours.

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