Ferran Torres is reaping the benefits of relocating a positive outlook at Manchester City, with Pep Guardiola stating the Spain forward was “upset with the world, with many situations”.
Torres netted a fine hat-trick, which began with a spectacular improvised volley, when the Premier League champions won 4-3 at Newcastle United last Friday.
Those goals moved Torres onto 19 for club and country this season, although his form tailed off considerably during the middle of the campaign – a situation that was compromised by a bout of coronavirus.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s match at Brighton and Hove Albion, Guardiola reiterated the value he places upon players remaining upbeat when form and selection are not going their way, suggesting Torres has fallen short in this regard at times since joining from Valencia for £21.2million last August.
“The players, like teams, are not a stable situation. There is up and down with all players,” Guardiola said.
“Ferran was in an incredible mood when he arrived, [then] in one period sad, upset with the world, with many situations and that’s why he didn’t play good. When he changed his mind and he was open and he started to smile again, always he played good.
“And the football depends on the mood, the confidence of the players. We try to help them but it depends on them. You can complain or you can move forward all the time. And the guys who move forward and they are positive, always football rewards you.
“When you start to complain all the time, then the train comes over you and other guys will take your position.
“Football doesn’t wait. If you’re not in the right moment, there will be another guy who will take your position. When you are positive, the guys are always playing good.”
Torres has scored 13 times for City in all competitions this season, putting him level with Gabriel Jesus. Only Ilkay Gundogan (16), Phil Foden, Riyad Mahrez and Raheem Sterling (all 14) have scored more.
The 21-year-old’s minutes-per-goal rate of 159.85 is comfortably the best in Guardiola’s squad, with no other player who has scored five or more times below 200 minutes.
Nevertheless, his season can be split into three fairly clear sections.
From the start of the campaign up to and including a goalscoring contribution to a home win over Newcastle on Boxing Day, Torres scored seven times for his club and also hit a hat-trick in Spain’s 6-0 Nations League thrashing of Germany.
For City, he averaged 0.56 goals per 90 minutes and boasted a shot conversion rate of 20 per cent, out-performing an expected goals (xG) figure of 5.75 and vindicating Guardiola’s decision to frequently deploy a natural winger at the centre of his attack.
“We used him in that position because for quite a long period of the season Gabriel and Sergio [Aguero] were injured,” he said.
“We have players that can play in different positions and Ferran is one of them.”
Then, COVID-19 struck and Torres became a more marginal figure, featuring 10 times between the turn of the year and the March international break and netting a solitary goal against League Two Cheltenham in the FA Cup.
That paltry return came from 15 shots over this period, amounting to a conversion rate of 6.67 per cent and an xG under-performance (2.24).
It means the stint of low mood that Guardiola mentioned is not too hard to pick out, although back-to-back goals in Spain’s World Cup qualifiers against Georgia and Kosovo appear to sparkTorres once more.
In six appearances and five starts for City since, he has five goals at a rate of one every 83.2 minutes, far exceeding his 1.77 xG.
Torres’ conversion rate during this most recent spell is up at 41.67 per cent and the poaching instincts that were to the fore in his second and third goals against Newcastle are borne out in the fact he has scored three of his past four “big chances”, according to Opta.
His opener does not fall into that category, but such an ingenious move coming off is perhaps indicative of a player back in form and giving his manager a useful problem ahead of this month’s Champions League final.
“The goal was so nice, difficult execution. An absolutely talented action,” Guardiola added.
“In training sessions he always has the ability in front of goal. He is a good finisher. He has pace, quality and good decision-making.”
As City continue to be linked with mega-money moves for a new striker and Aguero prepares to leave the Etihad Stadium after a record-breaking decade, maybe they have a very useful solution in-house.