Fernando Torres’s fairytale return to boyhood club Atlético Madrid will continue when he makes his second debut against fierce local foes Real Madrid in the first leg of their Copa del Rey last-16 tie on Wednesday. Torres, who made his first appearance for Atlético at the age of 17 and was made captain before leaving in 2007, was signed on a loan deal from AC Milan at the start of the month. And manager Diego Simeone, who played with Torres during the striker’s first spell at the club, has revealed that he has no doubts about throwing the 30-year-old straight into the starting lineup.
“Torres starts against Madrid, he said at his press conference on Tuesday, reports Spanish publication AS. “Torres came after training with Milan. He had already played 10 league games there. He has spent several days working with us and tomorrow he will start playing. If I did not see him with strength, with the potential to break opposing defenses, I would not count on him.”
“He has different characteristics to the others in our group and he will enhance our attack. I have great memories of him of when he was young -- I got on very well with him when I was here before and at Atlético now there are players with a sense of belonging.”
Torres was welcomed by 45,000 fans upon his return to a club that is in a drastically stronger position than when he left. Under Simeone, the Spanish champions, though currently a point behind Real Madrid in La Liga and having played a game more, have ended the years of dominance held over them by their illustrious neighbors. That turnaround began in the final of the Copa del Rey two years ago when Atlético beat Real Madrid. And while Madrid got revenge in the semifinal of the Copa del Rey last season and then dramatically in the final of the Champions League, Atlético have had the edge this campaign, triumphing in the Spanish Super Cup and then winning 2-1 at the Bernabeu in the league.
Having lost just once in their last 10 matches, their confidence in getting another victory at the Vicente Calderon on Wednesday will be enhanced by Madrid’s Spanish-record 22-match winning streak being brought to an end by Valencia on Sunday. A 2-1 loss was followed by criticism from some quarters for Gareth Bale, after the world’s most expensive player missed a late chance and failed to pass to the waiting Cristiano Ronaldo or Karim Benzema. Manager Carlo Ancelotti, though, defended the Welshman.
“I've seen replays of the incident and it wasn't easy to pass” he said, according to Madrid-based sports daily Marca. “Bale made the right decision to try to score. Like every member of the squad, he knows that if you have the chance to pass, you should pass, but he didn't have the space to do so.”
Ancelotti also confirmed that Bale as well as goalkeeper Keylor Navas would start against Atlético, while stating that “although there could be changes, a usual 11 will play.”
Prediction: Torres starting should ensure that the Atlético crowd is even more raucous der than normal for a match against their great rivals. However, once the emotion is stripped away, it is difficult to see what Torres will bring to Atlético on the pitch, given that it is now five years since he played at the high level he began to show at Atlético first time around. It remains to be seen, with a match against Barcelona awaiting on Sunday, how strong a lineup Simeone will select and whether the in-form Antoine Griezmann will be selected. But Madrid could also rotate and, lacking a physical presence in midfield, they could again struggle to deal with the pressure and intensity so synonymous with Simeone’s side.
Atlético Madrid 1-0 Real Madrid
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EST
TV channel: beIN Sports
Live stream: beIN Sports Connect