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Breaking Down the Role Fernando Torres Will Play for Atletico Madrid in 2016/17

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistJune 1, 2016

Atletico Madrid's Spanish forward Fernando Torres reacts during the UEFA Champions League final football match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at San Siro Stadium in Milan, on May 28, 2016. / AFP / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE        (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/Getty Images

Fernando Torres ended the season as one of La Liga's most in-form players, rattling in the goals and generally looking somewhere back to his former effective self for Atletico Madrid, to the point that he was an undisputed starter in their UEFA Champions League final.

For a player who struggled to find form or goals for the best part of five years at Chelsea and AC Milan, it's quite a turnaround for the Spanish striker, who has earned himself a new deal at the Vicente Calderon, which should be close to being signed after Diego Simeone confirmed talks in mid-May.

It means Torres will continue to wear the No. 9 shirt next season for Los Rojiblancos, but with the club certain to bring in a new-name striker regardless, Torres is still likely to have to battle on a weekly basis to show he deserves to start matches domestically and in Europe.

Adebayor syndrome?

Cynical though it may seem, the club and other onlookers have to consider a possibility: Was Torres' upturn in effort and output simply a product of him coming to the end of his stay at Atletico?

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To put it in imaginable context: At how many clubs has Emmanuel Adebayor enjoyed a productive short-term loan spell to win a permanent contract, only to then fall well short of expectations and inevitably be bombed out a year or so later?

In Torres' case perhaps the motivation could have been more sporting than mercenary, not wanting to leave his boyhood club and original professional team, but the end result is the same—with his future assured and not needing to prove himself in the final three months of a season, can he maintain the same sort of form on a regular basis?

Atletico Madrid's forward Fernando Torres celebrates after scoring during the Spanish league football match Club Atletico de Madrid vs Celta Vigo at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on May 14, 2016. / AFP / JAVIER SORIANO        (Photo credit should
JAVIER SORIANO/Getty Images

To be completely fair and consider the opposite side of the argument, maybe it doesn't matter what the motivations were. Atletico were in dire need of a centre-forward in form after struggling for goals for a while, and Torres was the one who provided the team with one—not €30 million Jackson Martinez, not €20 million Luciano Vietto.

One is gone and the other could follow suit shortly, but Torres will deservedly remain in place.

Front-line additions

With Nico Gaitan seemingly on the way, according to Marca, Atletico already have one new attacking option in place and are certain to make a big-name addition to the striker area, too. Yannick Carrasco can operate wide or as a second striker, just like Angel Correa and No. 1 attacker Antoine Griezmann, but a new striker to directly be in competition with Torres is arguably top of Atletico's list of priorities this summer.

Diego Costa has been linked with a return for some time, but English outlet the Star (h/t Marca) suggest Antonio Conte wants to keep the Spain international, left out of the nation's UEFA Euro 2016 squad, at Stamford Bridge next year.

Costa (blue) and Cavani, Atletico's past and future?
Costa (blue) and Cavani, Atletico's past and future?Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

That leaves Edinson Cavani as one of the front runners in media circles, with rumours around a potential move from Paris Saint-Germain to Atletico Madrid not dampened by quotes in Marca suggesting he has talked to Diego Godin, a Uruguay team-mate, about life in La Liga.

There will be other names considered, rumoured, linked and refuted, but the inescapable fact is that Atletico will have to match or better the massive outlay of last summer on Colombian striker Martinez to continue their search for goals. On the plus side, they ridiculously managed to make a profit when they sold Jackson, so funds are not in short supply.

Split role

It all points to Torres starting next season exactly the same way he did 2015-16; as a sub who will come on with regularity, and a starter who will also be subbed off.

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 25: Jackson Arley Martinez  (L) of Atletico de Madrid clashes hands with Fernando Torres (R) as the first is relevated during the La Liga amtch between Club Atletico de Madrid and Valencia CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on October
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Simeone attempted to integrate Jackson by using him as a main starter, but giving him time to adapt by utilising Torres on a regular basis, both in-game to make tactical switches and to allow Martinez time to watch from the sidelines and improve in training.

It didn't happen, of course, but it was a reasonable approach to take and one that is likely to be repeated to an extent—though Simeone will hope the new forward shows a greater capacity to adapt than the former FC Porto man.

Pre-season could count for plenty, and there's every chance that Atletico sign a forward who will not immediately join up with the rest of the squad.

Edinson Cavani, for example, will be at the Copa America with Uruguay, while the Euros will also mean plenty of international stars get a short break afterward. Then there are the Olympics to consider, which will run until mid-August.

Torres may start the season as the first-choice No. 9, on merit but also on availability.

Atletismo

Even if Atletico were to sign Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain or Sergio Aguero—and let's be clear, they won't—Torres would still have a role to play.

He is an idol for the fans, renewed and placed on even higher a pedestal for some after his last couple of months at the club, and he gives a lift to them every time he enters the pitch or finds the back of the net.

From a more sporting perspective, the on-pitch chemistry he has formed with Koke of late has been pivotal to Atletico's success and there's no reason to suspect that will suddenly diminish, now it has been discovered. He can impact off the bench and help turn games around, play as a lone forward or in a pairing and suddenly has faith in his own ability to beat a defender or finish beyond the 'keeper again.

Torres has the work rate, the backing of the manager and the adulation of the support—and soon he'll likely have a new contract to keep enjoying and displaying all three. He might not end next season the way he ended 2015-16, but Atleti's living legend still has enough in the tank to offer the team reasonable depth in attack next year and the hope of silverware ahead.

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