Atletico Madrid came through one of their hardest remaining fixtures of the season in La Liga on Wednesday night, beating Athletic Club at San Mames by 1-0 to keep the pressure on Barcelona and maintain their hopes of snatching the title.
Another strike from Fernando Torres sealed the win in the Basque country, which was all the more important given Barcelona had just returned to form by walloping Deportivo La Coruna 8-0 shortly beforehand.
While Torres' ongoing excellent form is a huge bonus for Atleti and should help the striker seal a new contract, it cannot disguise from the fact the club have to go big in summer on landing another centre-forward to spearhead the challenge for silverware next term, even if Torres remains and no major sales are anticipated.
The No. 9 has been in fantastic form of late, scoring in his last four league games in a row; not since the opening game of the 2008-09 season—almost eight years ago—has he hit such a streak.
A terrific header powered in at the near post defeated Athletic on Wednesday, with Torres showcasing good movement across the defensive line once again, as well as the confidence and aggression that has been on show of late as he leads the Atleti line. Since he ended his long barren spell to hit his 100th for the club, Torres has been on a huge upward trajectory.
Fernando Torres scored again tonight - that’s now 4 Liga games in a row & 7 in 639 mins since game he scored his 100th in. 1 every 91 mins.— Karl Matchett (@karlmatchett) April 20, 2016
He has certainly done all he can to prove to manager Diego Simeone and the club's hierarchy he's worth keeping hold of for another season at least, but it's unreasonable to expect the Spanish forward to keep up this level of impact.
Next term, Torres would once again be a squad option, a starter in some games and an impact sub in others, with a new striker leading the line in his place more often.
Griezmann and the second line
Antoine Griezmann is, of course, Atletico Madrid's main starting forward, but the Frenchman has been used more in the supporting role than as the spearhead this season, allowing him to link play from deep, help the counter-attack and use his tactical versatility to great effect.
It's better for the team, and Griezmann's end product isn't affected in the slightest, as evidenced by our statistical look at him in an Atleti shirt here.
Add in the improved final-third output from the likes of Saul and Koke this season, plus the signing of Yannick Carrasco, and Atleti's big strength (after the defence) is quickly becoming how well they function and link together from the second line of attack: the wide midfielders and the forward who drops off deepest. They have an overall ability to quickly drop from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, giving extra midfield protection and an additional threat in the box alternately.
It means the central striker needs to be mobile, powerful, able to offer himself in the channels and, of course, clinical inside the area. Griezmann can do it, but he can also take the team up a notch when he plays off another person—currently Torres—who stars in the role.
The leading name at present is Diego Costa, the former Atleti attacker who is now with Chelsea. Per Marca (h/t Metro), rumours persist that he could return to the Vicente Calderon in summer and he certainly has all the technical and tactical attributes to be a success at the club once again, even if he is now two years older and with a handful more injuries to contend with.
From the Spanish press, Sport listed six "killers" who were interesting Simeone: Costa again headed the pack, but Edinson Cavani, Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke, Mauro Icardi and Carlos Bacca were all named, too. Of that group, Cavani or Icardi seem to best suit the traits required from the first-choice striker, and Atleti will have no trouble spending big after selling Jackson Martinez in February.
Torres will be involved, but it'll be no surprise to see Atletico, one of Europe's best teams now by any definition or criteria, boost their squad even further and be as difficult to stop in attack next term as they are to break down at the other end of the pitch.