Returning hero: Can Fernando Torres save his legacy at Atleti?
Fernando Torres could not have hoped for a better reception when he returned to boyhood club Atletico Madrid, 20/1 with Coral to retain La Liga title, after an eight-and-a-half season absence.
After enjoying a rapturous hero’s welcome, Torres put in a terrific performance against fierce cross-town competitors Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey, to help send Atleti through to a tantalising quarter-final clash with Barcelona.
Two fantastically-timed goals, in the first minute of both halves, announced that ‘El Nino’ is finally back where he belongs. Can the Vicente Calderon family revive the former Chelsea and Liverpool frontman’s career?
Currently owned by Serie A giants AC Milan, it appears Torres will have to prove his worth to Diego Simeone if the switch is to be permanent.
A brilliant brace to down Los Blancos was certainly a good place to start. The out-of-favour Spain striker pounced within the opening minute, showcasing the poacher’s instinct that once saw him regarded as one of Europe’s most feared forwards.
An instinctive and somewhat vicious strike to beat Keylor Navas was followed by an opportunistic effort after the break, as Torres beat Pepe to slot in his second.
Now 30, it looked as if the Atletico academy product was to be another sad case of wasted potential.
That may seem a strange thing to say about a player who can count World Cup, Champions League and European Championship medals amongst his silverware collection, but Torres’ individual stock has been on the wane for some time.
A spate of unfortunate injuries and the decision to swap Liverpool for Chelsea resulted in a significant loss of form, with few teams seemingly willing to take a punt on the once sought-after sharpshooter, who even became a figure of fun for opposition fans.
Once expected to eventually be ranked amongst the greatest strikers, Torres, who once racked up 65 goals in 105 Premier League games for the Reds, managed just five in his last full season with Chelsea.
Simeone and Atleti seem to have hit on the formula to extract the best from their newest addition, however, playing him as a lone frontman with much support, but there is still a long way to go before Torres can be counted as a force again.
In Madrid, he certainly has the right environment to prosper, looking a constant threat to Real’s rearguard.
Now lacking the blistering pace he was once blessed with, ‘El Nino’ still possesses sharp movement, workrate and link-up play that makes him an ideal fit for Simeone’s side.
Summer signing Mario Mandzukic could be the main casualty from Torres’ return, as the Croatia poacher was immediately benched to allow the Spaniard a start. This could just be clever man management, but Mandzukic has already been heavily with an Atleti exit.
Speaking about Torres’ contribution after the Copa del Rey triumph, master tactician Simeone stated: “He left, matured and is now a man.
“I am very pleased for him. The fans are happy and his arrival has been good for us even though some had their doubts.”
Man of the moment Torres, meanwhile, added: “It’s been a beautiful day. A day to enjoy.”
Talented Torres may be far from the exciting starlet who left Madrid in 2007, but his recent performance proves this dog has not yet had his day.
If Torres, Mandzukic and Antoine Griezmann can keep adding goals to the guile of Koke and Arda Turan, Atleti could be very good value at 18/1 to lift the Champions League.