Atletico Madrid's mixed start to the season has seen manager Diego Simeone have to chop and change his front line with some regularity, with all five first-team forwards getting game time in the early weeks as he seeks to find the most effective lineup.
Fernando Torres, the most experienced striker in the squad, and seen by many outsiders as the least exciting option—in stark contrast to his earlier career, of course—has, in fact, been relied upon by the manager to play a significant role so far.
With both the enduring good parts of his game on show and also his latter-day limitations, the 31-year-old's own beginning to the campaign has mirrored that of the team overall.
Reliance and Familiarity
The opening day saw Atleti face newly promoted Las Palmas—not a huge side, nor one with an inordinate amount of investment in the team over summer—so it was natural that Simeone wanted to plunge one of his new strikers in against mediocre opposition and give them the chance to hit the ground running.
Jackson Martinez was the man given the nod in that game, but since then, Torres has started four of the six matches in La Liga—and has come on at half-time in the other two.
While Torres' presence has been able to give time to Jackson and Luciano Vietto time to adjust to the new style of play and expectations on them, the former Chelsea and Liverpool striker hasn't been able to quite show the levels of consistency which would make him a nailed-on starter each game week.
Torres was extremely good in preseason for Atletico, looking fit, sharp and capable of linking play well.
That has carried into the season proper, with a number of his performances showing he maintains the old quality to go along with the hunger he displays with regularity anyway.
His runs in behind opposition defences have been good, the tenacity of bygone seasons has been seen and his link up—particularly with the effervescent Angel Correa—has been impressive.
So too have been the two goals Torres has netted to date; a composed, clipped finish against Eibar and a powerful driving run past the defence and subsequent strike against Barcelona.
At other times, rushed shots or a lack of conviction have seemed to cost him the chance to add to that tally.
Going forward, Torres is likely to continue being an important option in attack for Simeone, but without being able to get back to a more lethal penalty-box player, the assumption will remain that any of the younger forwards will surpass his game time sooner or later once they hit form themselves.
The term inconsistency doesn't just apply to Torres, but to Atleti overall: Their form has been hit and miss, results have been up and down, and their attack overall has alternately looked exciting and free-flowing...and lethargic and lacking invention.
Simeone has also been inconsistent to a point, changing around the starters and making subs early in games to affect the attack, as well as altering the actual formation to try with two forwards or three, a pacy wide option or narrow, creative midfielders from the flanks.
All told, it has been hard for any of the strikers to really show great consistency, but only through one of them emerging as a reliable partner for Antoine Griezmann, being a danger in the box and winning Atleti a few important points over the coming weeks can they point to deserving a regular starting role.
To the surprise of some, that still applies to Torres just as much to Martinez or Vietto at this point.