When Fernando Torres came off of the bench to secure all three points against Eibar, very few people expected that El Niño would go over four months without scoring another goal in the red and white of Atlético Madrid.
And yet Atleti’s number nine was to go 140 days without finding the back of the net. Fans could be forgiven for thinking the striker would eternally sit on 99 goals in the record books at the Vicente Calderón.
Four months and 18 days. In that time, Fernando Torres had played 882 minutes of football without firing, but the forward was consistently handed the opportunity by Diego Simeone, despite Luciano Vietto, Ángel Correa, and Jackson Martínez pushing for a regular spot in the side.
The Atlético hierarchy explained to Torres that he wasn’t in their plans for next season, at Simeone’s wishes, and that unless he picked up his performance level, he would have to leave Atlético again. This time against his will.
In early February, Torres entered the field as a second half substitute in the return match against Eibar at the Vicente Calderón. In the 91st minute, Luciano Vietto got in behind the Eibar defence and squared for Fernando Torres to poke home his 100th goal in red and white.
It was a poacher’s finish, a tap-in, a chance that couldn’t be missed. And yet there were 50,000 smiling faces in the Vicente Calderón as Fernando Torres celebrated a century of goals for Atleti.
Not two months later, El Niño is in double digits for the season, and he’s one of the first names on the team sheet for Cholo. Rumoured to be on the verge of agreeing a contract to stay at Atlético, Fernando has five goals in five games and is Atleti’s second-top scorer this season behind Antoine Griezmann.
His goals have been the difference for Atleti in a number of tight games. Six of his last eight have handed Atlético victories in games they were otherwise drawing.
There are even calls for a return for Torres to la selección after his return to form, a move that has seven out of ten AS readers wanting the 32-year-old at Euro 2016 in the summer.
Torres’ was given the nod to start against Real Betis in early April, with Luciano Vietto pulling out of the squad at the last minute after picking up gastroenteritis. Fernando’s early goal set Atlético on their way to a 5-1 drubbing of the Andalusians, and what a beauty of a goal it was.
After running onto Koke’s inch-perfect through ball, our number nine took the ball into his stride and lobbed Adán in delightful fashion to register his sixth league goal of the season.
While some may point to the Betis match as the turning point, a goal against Valencia on Torres’ 300th appearance for the club may have been the moment that El Niño’s fortunes changed.
Nine minutes after coming on as a sub, Fernando Torres found himself unmarked at the back post, ready to knock in a José Giménez flick-on with minimal fuss.
We must not forget the lethal penalty Torres put away as spot-kick taker number five against PSV in the Champions League.
El Niño hasn’t taken to the field without scoring for Atlético since the match against Betis, and goes into Saturday’s match with Málaga on the verge of his sixth goal in as many games.
His return to form comes at a fantastic time for Atlético, who look to keep the pressure on Barcelona for the title run-in, whilst also trying to return to their second Champions League final in three seasons.
How sweet it would be if Fernando Torres could lift either one of those trophies at the end of the season.
— AtléticoFans (@AtleticoFans) January 4, 2015