We’ve been here before and the debate continues—after some effective displays in the latter stages of this season, is Fernando Torres really back to his best?
No, is the short answer. Yet, while many use his £50 million transfer fee as a stick to beat him with, it doesn’t mean this season hasn’t been a positive one.
That British record transfer fee alone has played its part in Torres’ roller-coaster ride at Chelsea, not to mention tactical changes and managerial appointments.
Up one minute, down the next—the Spaniard has endured enough highs and lows during his two-and-a-half years at Stamford Bridge to last a lifetime.
When assessing a player’s contribution and form in the modern game, statistical data can play a big role in determining success or failure. For Torres, it may have made for poor reading in the past, but number crunching in 2012-13 outlines a somewhat different story.
A quick look at the goals chart says enough. His 20 goals this season is a record not to be frowned upon, and digging a little deeper, despite opinions to the contrary, his overall contribution isn’t far off what we saw in his time at Liverpool.
Dusting down our statistical thinking caps, Bleacher Report gets number crunching on Chelsea’s No. 9.
Every striker, regardless of his price tag, is judged on goals and goals alone. During his first 18 months at Chelsea, that approach made for poor reading where Fernando Torres was concerned.
Sure, his harshest critics will probably say that’s putting it mildly. After all, it took him 15 games to register his first goal—coming against a West Ham United team who went on to be relegated in 2011—while finding the back of the net just 11 times in 49 appearances last season hardly struck fear into defenders.
That gave a return of 0.22 goals per game—a record not exactly befitting the world-class marksman Chelsea thought they were buying.
In contrast, however, Torres is Chelsea’s leading goalscorer this term. It may be by the odd goal, but the leading scorer he is. That’s a mark of progress.
He’s led the line for most of the season, and while there have been blips, his strike rate of 0.34 goals a game is marked improvement.
Torres is without a Premier League strike since he opened the scores in the 8-0 humiliation of Aston Villa on Dec. 23, so his record is by no means as healthy as the stats may suggest. Although, given his troubles, he will be eager to look at what has gone right this term and build from there for 2013-14.
What 2012-13 has shown us is the future at Stamford Bridge belongs to three very special players—Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar.
Indeed, the trio Chelsea fans have dubbed the "Three Amigos" has been one of the major positives in an otherwise mixed season.
Fernando Torres can join them in that bracket—just.
Forget about his goals for a moment, the Spaniard has more than played his part at Chelsea. There is a notion that he has adapted his game to suit the way the Blues play, and the stats lean toward that.
It may have come at a cost of goals, yet what Chelsea have lost in that regard, they have gained in other areas. With five assists to his name, for instance, Torres is Chelsea's third highest provider of goals in the Premier League—ahead of Oscar, even.
Only Mata (12) and Hazard (nine) top him, which isn't anything to be ashamed of, considering it's their job to provide the ammunition for their teammates.
He is linking up play a lot more, too, with an average of 18.6 passes per game in the league. It may not seem significant, yet it is. It shows Torres is more involved in the team's forward play and is contributing to the team's success.
To repeat the earlier point (slide one), though, for some that will not be enough. Chelsea didn't break the bank for Torres so he could be involved in good buildup play—they did it so he would be finishing off their attacking moves.
That said, what it all outlines is something Torres himself explained in a recent interview for UEFA.com, that after a long bedding-in period, he understands his place in this Chelsea team better than ever before.
"In my case, it has maybe taken more time than it should, but after a couple of seasons here, I can see how different the team are compared to when I arrived, with different players," he said.
“We have to be clever and focused in the adaptation of the new ideas of the team, the manager and the kind of football we’re playing now. This is the main difference. My mind is more open than before, and I can see what I have to do to improve.”
You can watch the interview on UEFA.com.
Since Demba Ba arrived at Chelsea from Newcastle United for a reported £7 million in January, Fernando Torres has found himself part of Rafa Benitez's rotation policy.
Whether that has been a good thing or not, only Torres can truly say. What it has allowed for, however, is the Spaniard to remain somewhat fresher than what he would have been had he remained Chelsea's sole forward option for the remainder of the campaign.
Ba has impressed, although he hasn't overshadowed Torres.
With Ba in the team, Chelsea are not as free-flowing as many would like. The Senegalese striker tends to operate more through the middle, whereas Torres has adapted his game to join attacks at different stages and allow those behind him to interchange and fill the gaps he has created. It's unselfish.
For instance, on average this term, Torres has made one key pass per game for Chelsea, while Ba has made just 0.6 in a blue shirt. Torres has five assists; Ba has none.
And whereas Torres is bringing more players into the fray, averaging 18.6 passes, his fellow striker has a low 13.9.
It's clear Ba thrives on the service of his teammates, and while that was a trait of Torres in years gone by, those days seem to be over.
In Fernando Torres' last full season at Liverpool, he played 22 Premier League matches and scored 18 goals. It was a fine return and vintage Torres.
That year he looked sharp, although Liverpool were less so, finishing seventh in the league, having been runners-up the year previous.
Six months later, Torres would join Chelsea for a record £50 million, and he proved rather ineffective in the final half of the 2010-11 campaign.
He scored just once for his new club and was hardly involved in any of the action, averaging less than two shots a game and making just 14 passes. Games were passing him by.
Fast-forward to two years later, and he is finding that Liverpool form again.
We've already discussed his involvement in the team's attacking play this season, with figures that aren't too dissimilar to his final year at Anfield.
With 3.6 shots a game and 1.4 successful dribbles, he was a player full of energy and confidence. This year for Chelsea he has averaged four shots per game in the Premier League, and with 1.1 successful dribbles a match, he is again willing to face his opponent and challenge him one-on-one.
Is it renaissance? Not quite, and it's perhaps too early to speak in those terms. If the stats continue in the direction they have been heading throughout 2012-13, however, tales of his demise may yet prove to be somewhat premature.
*All stats courtesy of WhoScored.com