Manchester City’s search for a striker was supposed to be the big transfer story of the coming summer, as the Premier League champions attempt to replace departing club legend Sergio Aguero.
But could it be that a player they signed last summer – as a winger – has what it takes to fill the void left by the Argentine?
Ferran Torres grabbed his first Premier League hat-trick in City’s topsy-turvy 4-3 win at Newcastle on Friday.
The Spain forward showed a striker’s instinct with all his goals, producing a sublime flick for his first, finishing first-time from Gabriel Jesus’ cross for his second and then being in the right place to pounce after Joao Cancelo’s shot had hit the woodwork to complete his treble.
Torres now has seven goals in the Premier League and 19 in total for club and country this season – the best return of the 21-year-old’s fledgling career.
So has City boss Pep Guardiola’s summer search for a striker ended before it has begun?
‘He has a striker’s sense of smell’
Guardiola has managed some of the best attacking players in football during his time in charge of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, so he has a pretty good idea of the sort of qualities a world-class forward possesses.
Having arrived from Valencia last summer as a wide player, Torres’ scoring record was unremarkable. He had managed only nine goals in three seasons in professional football, with six of those coming last term.
Torres arrived in Manchester initially as a replacement for winger Leroy Sane, but Guardiola saw enough attacking talent in the youngster to start playing him down the middle as a false nine on occasion.
Now, though, Torres’ predatory instinct has Guardiola thinking he can operate as a true number nine.
“He has incredible numbers in his first season in the Premier League,” said Guardiola after the win over Newcastle.
“He’s so clinical. I’m going to have to think about him as a striker.”
How does Torres compare to City’s other attacking options?
Guardiola has Jesus as an orthodox striker option, but has also played Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva as false nines.
However, of all the attacking options it is Torres who has been the most deadly.
He has the best shooting accuracy of any City player (60%) and also possesses the best strike conversion rate.
|Player||Shooting accuracy (%)||Shot conversion rate||Goals|
|Kevin de Bruyne||48||6.38||5|
|Minimum five goals. Premier League only|
In terms of out-and-out numbers of goals scored he isn’t out in front, of course.
Gundogan leads the way with 16, with Foden, Sterling and Riyad Mahrez on 14 and Torres alongside Jesus on 13 for his club.
But Torres’s scoring form has really flourished recently, with seven goals in his past eight games for club and country, while it was his goal against Crystal Palace on 1 May that truly convinced Guardiola he has the ability to be a top-class Premier League forward.
“Ferran has scored a lot of goals, but today was first game is I saw that he can handle the physicality of the Premier League,” Guardiola said after the 2-0 win against Palace.
“He was a little boy and now he is a man, when you have this aggression in the Premier League it is good.”
Is it a role Torres is happy to take on?
It can sometimes be difficult to convince a player their future lies in another position, particularly if the one they were playing in had already done enough to earn them international recognition and interest from some of the biggest clubs in the world.
“My first position is right winger but I’ve learned this year to play in the three positions up front so I feel comfortable in all of them,” said Torres.
“I have never played as a number nine before but I played as a false nine today and scored a hat-trick so why not?”
It might make the back pages a little less interesting over the summer, but all the indications are that Guardiola might not have to look far to find his next Aguero.