Why Mandzukic and Torres' Partnership Is Biggest Issue Facing Atletico Madrid

Paul WilkesFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2015

Atletico's Mario Mandzukic, centre, celebrates his goal with teammate Fernando Torres, left, during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Granada at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
Andres Kudacki

Atletico Madrid's 2-0 win over Granada saw Mario Mandzukic and Fernando Torres paired together for the first time.

Torres had previously started both legs of the Madrid derby Copa del Rey encounters, but had yet to feature in the league.

Meanwhile, Mandzukic appeared as a substitute in the first leg at the Vicente Calderon, at which time Torres had already left the field.

Diego Simeone likes to play two strikers if possible and the success of Diego Costa and David Villa last season was an important part of the title triumph.

Torres and Mandzukic made just three successful passes to each other during their link-up at the weekend, per FourFourTwo Stats Zone, although the likelihood is that this will improve with familiarisation.

The brace from Torres at the Bernabeu was not only a confidence boost for the returning hero, but a sign that he can form an effective alliance with another forward.

Antoine Griezmann assisted both goals for Torres, and although he has very different characteristics to Mandzukic, it has to be seen as a positive.

There has been numerous occasions when he has failed to develop any sort of coherence with a fellow striker.

The former Chelsea forward failed to forge a decent understanding with the likes of Didier Drogba, Nicholas Anelka or Samuel Eto'o in his time at Stamford Bridge.

At Liverpool he was expected to fire the goals in tandem with Robbie Keane, and while the blame was firmly placed at the feet of the former Tottenham Hotspur man, it has become clear that Torres had his own role in that failure.

Torres has often worked better as a lone forward, with support arriving from out wide or deeper.

The best partnership he made at club level has been with Steven Gerrard, with the midfielder's ability to either shoot or pick a pass, the dilemma for opposing defenders.

"He was my best team-mate and I am not sure of finding another like him in the future," admitted Torres to So Foot magazine via the Mirror. "We were made for each other."

Arguably his best form in a twosome came with David Villa for his country, and that was because they had played together since an early age for the various Spanish youth teams.

As for Mandzukic, he too has played more games on his own up front.

Pep Guardiola and Jupp Heynckes both used him as a target man when at Bayern Munich, with tactical alterations arriving behind him rather than next to him.

However, at international level he has worked closely with Eduardo and Nikica Jelavic.

This season he has had Raul Garcia, Raul Jimenez and Griezmann to play alongside, too.

"His enthusiasm and his ability have gelled with a team that plays in the same way," Simeone explained to the press earlier in the season, per Reuters (via Eurosport).

"At the start maybe he found it a bit tough but he has become more involved with each match and his relationship with his team mates is improving all the time."

The Argentine could easily be using the same words to describe Torres when a few more weeks have come to pass.

"It was the first time they had played together," responded Simeone to the press after defeating Granada, via Goal.

"It's normal. They are two strikers with distinct but similar features. I'm happy."

Simeone's assertion that they are similar is a strange one, as Mandzukic is better with crosses into the box and Torres thrives on through balls.

Although the two forwards can both play on the shoulder of the last defender and find space between the lines, they do so in a different manner.

Torres is at stage in his career that requires him to have more support in the final third, and in the Croatian he will certainly get that.

The Torres and Mandzukic combination is in its infancy, but it's likely to get much better.