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Much has changed in Fernando Torres’ career over the last seven years. Just over six years ago he scored the winner for Spain in the European Championship final and was regarded as arguably the best striker in world football. After a hugely successful spell at Liverpool, he moved to Chelsea where his career began to destabilize and he has now, following a brief spell at AC Milan returned to his beloved Atletico Madrid to resurrect his struggling career.
It was fourteen years ago that El Nino made his debut for Los Rojiblancos and his return to the club saw the Vicente Calderon Stadium full to capacity to welcome him home. Cynically, it has been viewed as merely a publicity stint to cheer up supporters following the departures of Costa, Courtois and Felipe last summer. However, to even consider that as option you would be underestimating their coach Diego Simeone and one would be foolish in the extreme to do that.
Too many years have gone by now for Torres’ downward spiral to be fully reversed. The lethal speed that made him so feared by defenders throughout the continent has diminished and the free scoring player everyone witnessed at Liverpool has all but faded. What he does still possess though is experience and the knowhow to offer Atleti other options.
When Simeone brought Mario Mandzukic in as Costa’s replacement it was a clear like for like replacement in terms of physical attributes; both are strong with and without possession, both have good aerial presence and both players are good finishers. There is however one subtle difference; Costa is much quicker across the ground than his Croatian counterpart. For all of Atleti’s wonderful pressing and quick counterattacking, it was the Spanish striker’s pace that enabled them to stretch games.
Whilst this season has not exactly started badly, the reliance on Mandzukic to perform to a high level in every game will be harder and harder at this point in the season. What Torres’ addition to the side also brings is a return to being able to stretch teams more. Alongside Griezmann there is then serious pace that most defences will struggle to contain.
One of Costa’s primary sources of the ball around the opposition penalty area last season was Koke and this season he has not been quite as devastating in the final third. During the recent Copa del Rey victory over city neighbours Real Madrid, it was noticeable that Torres’ presence in the team had been a real positive for Koke’s game. Finally, he was able to break the defensive lines and look to play beyond their opponent again. He was clipping balls into space for Torres, which hurt Real’s defensive unit and Atleti won the tie quite comfortably in the end.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong for Torres and seemingly even harder for him to reverse. He does however remain a good player first and foremost and, despite his killer instinct deserting him, he should still return with a few crucial goals before the end of the season. His two goals against Real were not vintage Torres, but they demonstrated that he will enhance this side rather than hinder it.
One of the key aspects of a successful coach is the ability to rebuild a side and attempt to retain a certain style. Simeone rebuilt well over the summer, but noticed something that was missing and has addressed it incredibly smartly. Not only has Torres’ return been popular with the fans, players and club as a whole it has also given the side a dynamism they were lacking.
Some may have viewed this transfer as sentimentality, but it is clear that it is far from it.
Written by Andy Hunter
Follow Andy on Twitter @hunter67980
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