Fully 30 metres out and quite central to the goalmouth, it was the kind of free-kick where most players would look to float a ball into the box, hoping to pick out a team-mate in the air.
Instead, Lucas Torreira launched a vicious, swerving shot into the top-right corner, veteran Chievo goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino powerless to prevent it crashing into the back of the net. The Sampdoria fans in the packed out Gradinata Sud celebrated wildly, as did the man himself, the Stadio Luigi Ferraris collectively stunned at his sensational first goal for the club.
It put the Blucerchiati 2-1 ahead, and Duvan Zapata would put them firmly in control by bagging a third goal just before half-time. Torreira ran the show in midfield on both sides of the ball, recording a game-high four tackles while also leading all players with 67 completed passes, but he wasn’t finished yet.
An 85th-minute corner would provide the 22-year-old with a chance to prove his first set-piece effort was no fluke. The ball was swung into the box and headed away easily at the near post, but as it dropped towards the edge of the box, Torreira watched its flight perfectly, lashing home a first-time volley to finish a 4-1 rout of the Veronese visitors.
It was a sensational performance, and he followed it up with another excellent showing in the derby against Genoa a week later, then smashed in a third long-range goal against Juventus to showcase his talent to a much wider audience.
“Torreira has gone from Serie B to Serie A with ridiculous ease,” Sampdoria’s sporting director Carlo Osti told La Repubblica after those incredible November displays. “It was said that if he scored even just a few goals, he’d be perfect. He’s already scored three and my phone rang continuously on Monday.”
Interest in the Fray Bentos native was understandably sky high. A few weeks earlier he had been linked with Everton and West Ham United, but now he was being talked about as a target for Europe’s most prestigious clubs, Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Manchester United showing their interest alongside Italian heavyweights Juve, Napoli and Inter.
The latter made a move to sign Torreira on deadline day in January but Samp stood firm, safe in the knowledge that they are financially strong and don’t need to make hasty sales. They can now wait until the summer and hope the sheer volume of clubs looking at their midfield maestro – who was signed at a cost of just €1.5million – leads to a lucrative and profitable auction.
His consistently good form will certainly boost their chances of presiding over exactly that, as Torreira continues to shine every time he steps on the field. He leads all Serie A players with a total of 75 tackles, sits third in interceptions with 54 and only five men have made more passes in 2017/18.
Sitting at the base of Sampdoria’s midfield, his defensive diligence ensures the backline is well protected, but it is in possession that Torreira truly excels. Averaging 62.7 passes per 90 minutes, he connects with almost 90 per cent of those attempts and, watching him closely, those numbers are not empty statistics.
He doesn’t simply look to keep the ball moving, instead taking the kind of direct, proactive approach to the role that Andrea Pirlo once did, always making the right pass whether it is to a team-mate five yards away or a striker making a run into the box at the opposite end of the pitch.
Timing his long balls forward perfectly, he has eradicated the slow, ponderous nature of his play from earlier in the season, now much sharper and capable of moving the ball quickly while losing none of his trademark accuracy. Tactically aware thanks to the work of Samp’s superb coach, Marco Giampaolo, Torreira is also acutely aware of the improvements he has made yet insists he will continue to work to improve other areas of his game.
“I checked the statistics for 2017 and I appear a lot in the lists of winning back possession and interrupting play,” he told Uruguayan newspaper Ovación. “That means I’m doing well and that motivates me to do even better. I’m playing in a very strong league and great things are happening to me, so I want to continue growing, as I am still very young.”
His age and the potential to grow even further make him very much in-demand, while the ability to prove that his size – Torreira stands just 5 ft 6ins – is not a hinderance even against Serie A’s best sides has ensured interest in signing him is at an all-time high, with his current boss expecting a bright future for his young charge.
“If Torreira were 1.8 metres tall, he would already cost €100million and would be considered among the strongest playmakers in the world,” Giampaolo said in an interview with the Corriere dello Sport. “He can play it short or long, wins the ball back, restarts play and always seems to know where the ball will be. He’ll go to a big club that does not care so much about his stature.”
High praise indeed, but the player’s performances unquestionably warrant it. The one piece of bad news for Giampaolo and Samp is that while Torreira signed a new five-year contract in the summer, it came with a €25million buyout fee – believed to be only valid during summer transfer windows – that now represents a steal for those potential suitors.
A breakout season from a 22-year-old has left that clause looking ridiculously low and Lucas Torreira could be making a big impression at a club near you very soon.