Many Arsenal supporters are excited at the rumor that Arsenal have activated the release clause for Sampdoria’s Lucas Torreira and for good reason: he’s just 22 years old and his stats are reminiscent of two-time Premier League winner and former player of the year, N'golo Kante.
Torreira is one of just a handful of young midfielders who are currently tearing up Europe’s big five leagues. Checking whoscored.com I sorted all players by position (DMC and CM) and then by age (U24) and by number of appearances (at least 15). There were a number of standout players: Mandragora, Rodri, Tousart, Anguissa, Torreira, Ñíguez, and Ndidi.
If we look just at the outright defensive actions per 90 minutes of football (all players played at least 2000 minutes - at least 22 game equivalents) they breakdown like this:
Leicester's Ndidi is the most active defender in the group overall, completing nearly 8 defensive actions per match (7.6) and the majority of that is in tackles. But he’s also a highly active pass blocker, completing more blocked passes (1.8) than interceptions (1.6). This is indicative of Allardycian football, where players seem to be less proactive about winning the ball back and more about just stopping play. His tackle rate is also poor and he was dribbled 74 times last season, that means that players got past him on average 2.3 times per 90. The only player worse was Anguissa, who was dribbled 2.38 times per match. Torreira was second best, he only let opposition dribblers get past him 1.33 times per 90. Mandragora had the best rate in this group at just 1.19 times per 90.
Torreira also had the third most interceptions per 90 with 2.0, Anguissa and Mandragora led the pack.
But more than just winning the ball back, you want a defensive midfielder who himself doesn’t turn the ball over very often, either through bad short passes or through dawdling in possession. If we add up all the ball recoveries and subtract all the giveaways most players tend to give the ball away more often than they win it back (mostly because of bad short passes).
Blue here is winning the ball back and red is giving the ball away. Ndidi had pretty poor short passing rates (80%), where Rodri and Torreira topped this group of players with a 91% and 90% short passing rate. Yes, these players are mainly passing the ball backward and sideways but it’s more important that they don’t give the ball away because they are in a deep position where the opponents can have a clear chance on goal.
Passing at or near 90% is something we typically only see with older, more developed players. So, it’s incredible to see both Rodri and Torreira passing the ball this well.
Rodri in particular is a special talent: his long ball passing rate is 76% which is virtually unheard of at the tender age of 21. Xhaka was just 66% long passing last season and that’s his speciality! Rodri connected on 162 of 214 long passes last season at Villareal, while also putting in the defensive work that made him the most desired defensive midfielder in Europe. Sadly, he’s not available as he returned to Atletico Madrid who trained him as a youth. He’s going to form quite the partnership in Madrid with Saul Ñíguez.
Torreira’s long passing was about what you expect from a young player, connecting on just 56%, which isn’t as bad as Ndidi (the worst of the bunch at 45%) but still not great. What’s odd about Torreira is that he had the most key passes (passes that lead to a shot) off corners and free kicks than any player on Sampdoria. Xhaka led Arsenal in key passes from corners and I doubt that Torreira would take that duty away from him but it’s an indication that his manager saw a quality in him that others didn’t have in his team.
Finally, the moment you have been waiting for: the comparison to Kante.
Kante is a force of nature on Chelsea and was one of the main reasons why both Leicester and Chelsea won the Premier League. Kante completes short passes at a 91% rate (Torreira 90%) and both players complete 51-55 short passes per game. Kante is a better long passer, connecting on 69% of his attempts, versus 56% for Torreira.
Neither player is adventurous on the dribble: Kante tries just 1.7 dribbles per 90 and Torreira 1.4 and both players win about 80% of their attempted dribbles (Kante 82%). And neither player is involved in the final phase of attack, with Kante averaging 1.2 key passes per 90 and Torreira just 1.0. That literally just leaves a comparison of the way that both players play defense which is eerily similar:
As you can see from the spider chart, both players have nearly identical defensive styles. Torreira is just a younger version of Kante. And with a release clause of just 20m Euros there’s no wonder why he’s in demand from the top clubs in Europe.