Of all the signings this summer, it may be Pau Torres that is the most vital to Aston Villa’s potential success in the season ahead.
Words: Andy Bates | Threads: @andyvillak2
As the 2023-24 season rapidly approaches this week, Aston Villa fans across the globe are eagerly anticipating both Premier league and Europa Conference league campaigns, following an exceptional performance last season to achieve European qualification for this first time in twelve years.
Under Unai Emery, the transformation was as dramatic as could be imagined, as he regenerated Steven Gerrard’s floundering squad into one of the most feared teams in the league.
Whilst players like Douglas Luiz and OIlie Watkins were able to move up to a new level of performance in their careers, it was the defence – in particular the central duo of Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings – who provided the bedrock of the extended winning runs which catapulted Villa into the top seven.
Both centre halves had come in for criticism at various stages and appeared to be on the chopping block when Emery came through the door at Bodymoor Heath. However the performances of both players were not only critical in posting some astonishing defensive numbers, but also allowed Emery to shape his possession based game, playing out from the back and setting up attacks, which they have adapted to with aplomb.
As Villa were winning games and striker Ollie Watkins was breaking goalscoring records set by Dwight Yorke back in the late 90s, there was a feeling that the squad was somewhat short of attacking options, a fact which led to the lean recall of Bertrand Traore in January. It seemed that midfield and attacking reinforcements would be required during this summer, and with Diego Carlos returning to fitness, having been badly injured in the second match of last season, the defence would probably be just fine.
Indeed we have seen Youri Tielemans and Moussa Diaby join the club this summer, both of whom have made eye catching starts during the pre season friendlies. Tielemans driving through the midfield and playing intricate through balls, whilst Diaby clearly has an abundance of pace to stretch defences and is a clinical finisher.
However, it was the acquisition of Villarreal defender Pau Torres, which could prove to be Emery’s main difference maker attacking wise, due to how well he will suit the style tactically and enable the team to beat the press and build from the back.
There have been some questions from fans as to whether it was necessary to sign the Spaniard, given how settled the defence had been last season and how well they had all adapted to the requirements of Emery. It has also been suggested that the arrival of number 14 Pau might upset the applecart, should Mings or Konsa lose their places as a result, or alternatively he himself becomes an expensive surplus.
The truth is that no-one really knows how those things might play out, however concerns such as these clearly will not prevent Unai Emery and new Sporting Director Monchi from trying to move the squad forward in their image.
Pau Torres has been a much sought after defender for a number of seasons, playing for his boyhood club in Spain while being tracked and courted by Europe’s top clubs including Bayern Munich and Napoli. He is undoubtedly a statement signing and has chosen to bring his talents to Aston Villa, in the hope that Emery will be able to continue to work the same ‘magic’ that he has at several clubs previously, including Villareal where he won the Europa League and took them to the Champions League Semi-Final.
He is a player who is excellent on the ball and a proficient passer and progressor of the ball, being able to break the lines with through balls and by making incisive runs. These are clearly aspects of his game and attributes which Emery has used and honed at Villarreal and that he feels will provide Villa with an edge when building attacks.
The question marks will be around Pau’s physicality, arial ability and whether he can withstand the pace and chaos of the Premier League, however with Mings and or Konsa alongside him – if Torres continues to be utilised as an auxiliary centre-half-come-full-back – he will be surrounded by a wealth of defensive experience at this level and should have time and support to adapt to the requirements of the English game.
Whilst we await with interest to see how Emery’s squad can hopefully build on last season’s successes, the new players, in particular Pau Torres, will be vital in Emery’s ever evolving tactical strategies and variations in game plans, as he brings the qualities so admired by his manager to Villa Park.