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Pau Torres would be the perfect centre back for Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United

Pau Torres has helped Villarreal reach new heights, but United have their eye on the defender. Sven Hoppe/Sipa.

As Manchester United saw out a comfortable 3-0 win over Brentford, the scale of the reconstruction job facing Erik ten Hag this summer became apparent. First, Nemanja Matic came off for the final time at Old Trafford before Juan Mata was given a standing ovation in his last appearance for the club.

Mata was replaced by Edinson Cavani who is also all but certain to United at the end of the season when his contract expires. Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard will also become free agents this summer with several other players reportedly considering an exit. Old Trafford could be the scene of an exodus. 

Ten Hag’s approach will demand a certain sort of player and this should see a number of new signings made. Pau Torres has been mentioned as a target and there’s good reason to believe the Spanish defender would be a good fit for Manchester United as they move into a new era under a new manager.

United are long-time admirers of Torres. The 25-year-old was heavily linked with the Old Trafford club last summer only for Raphael Varane to be targeted instead. 12 months on and Manchester United still need a central defender. Torres would be the ideal signing to deliver ten Hag as the club’s new manager.

For ten Hag’s approach to work, Manchester United will need pace to cover the ground in behind a high defensive line. This is currently a major issue for the Old Trafford side – opposition teams have exposed a desperate lack of speed in Harry Maguire countless times this season. The signing of Torres would make a big difference in this regard.

Torres has been clocked as the fastest defender in La Liga and would permit United to push their defence five yards further up the pitch, particularly if he is partnered with a fully fit Varane. Ten Hag will want his Manchester United side to play a proactive game and speed at the back will be key to making this happen.

On top of this, United need a central defender who is truly comfortable on the ball. Maguire is useful in possession, but the England international is relatively restricted in his passing range. Compare what Maguire can do on the ball to the quality in possession offered by the likes of Ruben Dias and Virgil van Dijk.

Unai Emery has got the best out of Torres by trusting him as a soccer player. The 25-year-old is averaging 4.5 long passes per 90 minutes for Villarreal this season and is the Yellow Submarine’s most prolific passer of the ball (63.1 passes per 90 minutes). On top of this, Torres is also averaging 3.2 clearances per 90 minutes – only Raul Albiol has a better average (4.1).

Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick, Manchester United have been too slow to move the ball from front to back. They need central defenders who aren’t just willing and able to stride into midfield with the ball at their feet, they need operators who can bypass midfield entirely with a long pass into the wide attackers.

Rangnick has been candid in his public observations of what Manchester United need to truly progress and leave behind a decade of disappointment. The interim manager has spoken about a lack of physicality in midfield and a lack of fluidity in attack among other things. There isn’t an area of United’s current squad that doesn’t need attention.

At least one new central midfielder is expected to arrive at Old Trafford this summer with Pogba on his way out. Last summer’s capture of Jadon Sancho has done little to solve United’s right wing deficiency with the 22-year-old more effective off the left while Cavani’s exit will heighten the need for a new centre forward. 

However, without a sound defensive basis ten Hag won’t be able to build anything. Without this foundation, Manchester United will be a team constructed on quicksand. They need a solid centre back pairing to give United something they haven’t had since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson nine years ago.

Between Maguire, Varane, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly, Manchester United have a number of options in central defence, but Varane is the only one of this group who can play in the way ten Hag requires. The Dutch coach will have to rebuild his defensive unit – signing Torres is the first step to achieving that.

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