It’s now two years since Chelsea splashed out a Premier League record £50 million to bring Fernando Torres to Stamford Bridge from Liverpool. Time enough, you might think, for a definitive verdict to be made on the Spanish striker’s largely disappointing performances for the west Londoners: is he just suffering from one of the longest dips in forms in football history or is he effectively finished as a player of the very first rank?
Statistics don’t tell the whole story, of course, but in Torres’ case they are certainly revealing. In the currency that strikers are judged by above all others—goals—his record with the Blues has been far from impressive: just 27 goals in 78 starts and 28 substitute appearances.
It’s a return which is remarkably similar to that of his Chelsea and Spain team-mate Juan Mata, who has scored 27 goals in 81 starts and 12 appearances off the bench. Surely, though, a supposedly ‘world-class’ striker should be scoring significantly more goals than a midfielder, even one as talented and attack-minded as Mata?
However, it’s when we look in detail at the games in which Torres has scored that the steep decline from his Liverpool heyday starts to appear irreversible. Incredibly, just five of his goals for Chelsea have materially affected the result of the game—or to put it another way, if he hadn’t scored the remaining 22 goals, the outcome of those matches would have been exactly the same. Mata, on the other hand, has scored 10 goals for the Blues that have had a direct bearing on the result.
The picture is similar when we take into account Chelsea’s opponents in the matches when Torres and Mata have scored. Torres has managed a paltry three goals in total against the Blues’ six biggest Premier League rivals—Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool—with his displays against his old Anfield employers being particularly insipid and, needless to say, goalless. Mata, meanwhile, has a current total of seven goals against the same set of opponents, including a winner at the Emirates last September, two goals in a brilliant display at White Hart Lane the following month and a superb opener against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge earlier this year.
So, if Torres isn’t scoring in tight matches where goals are at a premium or in games against the leading Premier League sides, when is he getting on the scoresheet? The simple answer is that most of his goals have come in emphatic Chelsea victories against lesser sides.
Take, for example, the five games in which he has scored more than one goal for the Blues: two in a 5-0 demolition of Genk, another two in a 5-2 thrashing of Leicester in the FA Cup, a hat-trick in a 6-1 annihilation of QPR, two more in a 6-1 hiding of Nordsjaelland and another brace in a 3-1 win at Sunderland. Only in the last of those games could it be said that Torres’ goals were crucial to the outcome of the match.
Indeed, the stats show that no fewer than 16 of his 27 Chelsea goals have come in games when the Blues have scored four or more goals, compared to just nine of Mata’s. To use a cricketing term, there is something of the ‘flat track bully’ about the Stamford Bridge Torres. Where, in his Liverpool pomp, he used to terrorise the best defenders in the land, now he takes advantage of matches against decidedly inferior opposition to bump up his modest goals per games ratio.
In January 2011, when Roman Abramovich wrote that mega cheque out to Liverpool, he presumably thought that he was buying a top-rank striker who would soon fill the goalscoring boots of Blues legend Didier Drogba.
The evidence, though, suggests instead that the Russian has acquired an eye-wateringly expensive replacement for an altogether different ex-Chelsea striker: a player who could be relied upon to chip in with goals against weaker opponents, but rarely hit the target in high-profile games and was only occasionally a genuine match-winner. It may make Abramovich choke on his late-night Stolichnaya, but the stats show that the Torres he blew £50 million on is really nothing more than a deluxe version of Salomon Kalou.