ESPANYOL 1 - 3 ATLÉTICO

Torres has still got the magic

Fernando Torres returned to his blistering best against Espanyol. He cancelled out Diop's opener; Griezmann and Koke wrapped up the scoring.

Torres has still got the magic
PAU BARRENA AFP

Koke-Torres. Torres-Koke. Either way it's a lethal connection and one which keeps Atleti's aspirations alive. Between Koke's vision and pinpoint passing and Torres' killer instinct and assassins' eye for goal, the two of them managed to resolve a game in which El Cholo's team found themselves trailing. When the chips are down, there's no team who can lift themselves like Atleti. Simeone's men only allowed Real Madrid to snaek up to second place for an hour. Barça meanwhile, can feel them breathing down their necks in the league, and determined to knock them out of the Champions League at the Calderón on Wednesday. The rojiblancos have reached the final stretch of the campaign in dazzling form.

Yet it was Pape Diop who got the scoreboard technician at Cornellà twiddling the knobs on his computer. The Senegalese rose high above the Atleti defence to glance a header far inside the back post. He'd already scored similar goals from corner set-pieces against Athletic and Málaga and met Asensio's delivery perfectly. Simeone shook his head in distaste. His defence failed to pick him up - all of those pep talks mid-week were forgotten in an instant. Juanfran should have been marking him. Being experts at set-pieces themselves, it hurts even more when you concede from one. But just seven minutes later, Torres had repaired the damage.

Torres, who has returned to personify the bear and strawberry tree which proudly adorns Atleti's club crest - their reference, their hero put matters straight. Even the freckles on his face seem younger. Koke put him clean through with a threaded pass and Torres, with three men on him, controlled and struck the ball through Espanyol's last centre-back's leg and inside the post - his sixth goal in a month and a half, and 105th for Atlético.

The two teams went in level at the break but the visitors were in front before the hour and once again, Koke and Torres were involved. The midfielder laid up the ball for Griezmann to beat Pau with a low finish which bobbed in off the past. He became a father on Thursday and didn't want to leave Cornellà without a special gift for his newly-born daughter. His goal, his 27th of the season, was dedicated to her.

After that it was just a question of finishing the job off. Torres sprinted to the byline and nipped in a cross which Koke met, squeezing between two Espanyol defenders, to nod in the winner. Koke and Torres changing roles, scoring then assisting but it doesn't matter - everyone celebrated. Next up, Barcelona...