Óliver Torres' return to Atlético Madrid this summer was celebrated by many in and around the club. Once a promising canterano (academy player), the 21-year-old was fresh off a very successful loan spell at FC Porto. Along with future teammate Jackson Martínez, Óliver played a key role in Porto's appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals and scored seven league goals as the Dragons finished three points behind Benfica domestically. His performances were of such a caliber that Diego Simeone demanded him in his 2015-16 squad, and the club reportedly rebuffed Porto's attempts to retain him for a second loan spell as part of the Jackson sale in July. He was even handed the prestigious #10 shirt vacated by a certain Turkish midfielder who shall remain nameless.
Circumstances have changed for Óliver in the months since his return to the capital. Where once there was great enthusiasm and optimism for what his skills on the ball could bring to the side, there appears to be now confusion and lingering doubt. He began the season in the XI as a wide player, a position where his creativity and dribbling should serve him well, but he's failed to complete 90 minutes in any of his six starts, often departing after an hour of burn. There were a couple instances, particularly away to Eibar, where Óliver was effectively utilized as a creative outlet off the bench, and he scored a lovely chipped goal in the 4-0 home win against Astana in the Champions League. However, since that goal, Óliver has played just 41 minutes total - 21 minutes and 12 minutes in home wins against Valencia and Sporting Gijón, and just eight minutes in the goalless draw in Astana.
Óliver's reduction in playing time has almost directly corresponded to Yannick Ferreira Carrasco's meteoric rise up the pecking order. The Belgian has become central to Simeone's plans of late - so much so that Cholo was whistled for removing him against Sporting. Assuming Carrasco's form doesn't suffer a major dip, he will form a four-man starting midfield with Gabi and Tiago in the center and Koke as the other wide man.
(Speaking of, Gabi should play on the right-hand side and Koke should play through the middle, but that's for another time.)
Placing Óliver in a more central role would prove a challenge, too, as Saúl Ñíguez has proven to be effective cover for Gabi when the captain is out. The fellow canterano, who turns 21 himself on Nov. 21, also needs game time and is a destroyer in the center of the park. While he doesn't possess the silky touch Óliver does from a wide position, the team hasn't lost a whole lot with Saúl on the wing (he is serviceable there), and he does benefit from Óliver's lack of form. Furthermore, when River Plate midfielder Matías Kranevitter joins in January - you know, the guy who's been called the next Javier Mascherano - Óliver's place in the team really could be under threat.
Now, there's no way Atlético would cut Óliver loose and sell him; for one, he's still quite young, and he clearly has talent and the mettle to prove it on a big stage. He still figures for the club in the long term, but not so much for this iteration of Atleti. If Óliver, smooth first touch and all, can't crack the team for more than 10 minutes at a time, it would be best to find him a few months of action at, say, a Europa League squad. Óliver still has time to find form and make his mark on the team - the window doesn't open for more than six weeks - but he is approaching crunch time. Expectations have not led to production for Óliver, who is coming up on a crossroads in his colchonero career.