It's nearly August, which means it nearly the start of the 2012-13 Chelsea season. No-one could say this season isn't pivotal for Fernando Torres. Having joined us from Liverpool exactly 18 months ago today, his time has, to put it lightly, been less-than-stellar. Nando has scored exactly 12 goals in 67 games for Chelsea. £50,000,000 or not, that is simply not good enough.
Clearly, if this season continues in a similar vein, it'll be tough to imagine him seeing the 2013-14 season in blue, or, if bad enough, the end of this season. Though most Chelsea fans agree on this, I don't get the feeling that we agree on what will constitute success. Is it him reaching a particular goal milestone, scoring meaningful goals, winning the Premier League Golden Boot, or something simpler, like playing well? It's a tough question to answer, certainly, but let's explore it.
I suppose it's easiest to begin by sharing my expectations for Torres this season. They aren't totally concrete, I'll admit, but I essentially, I just want him to have a positive effect on our ability to score. I really don't care how he manages it, though I'd obviously prefer goals, just that he makes Chelsea more likely to score goals than when he isn't playing. Yes, assists are fine by me. After all, you only get assists if a goal is scored. More than his statistical performance, I want him to look good on the pitch and cut out the the wasteful aspects of his play, like running a chance to death, holding on to the ball too long, or hiding behind defenders.While we're thinking about how we want him to improve, it's helpful to get a handle on the level from which he's expected to improve. Last season for Chelsea, Fernando scored 11 goals and provided 12 assists. This made him the club's sixth-top goal scorer, and our second-top assister behind Frank Lampard on 16, and Juan Mata on 20 respectively. When you combine the two, Torres was the club's third-most involved player, goals-wise, with 23. Chelsea scored 112 goals in 61 games in all competitions last season, at an average of 1.83 per match. For reference, 2010-11 Chelsea scores 98 from 52, an average of 1.88, so, as you can see, our scoring rate was slightly-down from the year before.
On topic, though, it means Fernando Torres was directly involved in 20.5% of Chelsea's goals last season. Which is not entirely unrespectable. It's not £50m-worthy, but can we all agree the fee was just pants-crappingly-stupid for Fernando Torres at any point in his career? I know some of you aren't big fans of the idea that assists are just as good as goals, and, in a sense, you're right. A striker's job is not really to set up others to score, it's to score the goals himself. Personally, if Nando was made us more dangerous, but didn't improve the number of goals scored by a lot, I'd take it. For example, if he replicated Juan Mata's record from this year, 12 goals and 20 assists, I'd be plenty pleased.
That said, with the purchases we've made this summer, and the quality it's brought to the third band of our team, there's a case for such numbers being considered failure. After all, those players are ostensibly there to help the striker score. Hazard, Oscar, Mata, Ramires, and Marko Marin have all looked good in their preseason and Olympic appearances so far, so it's probably fair to say that any of our strikers left wanting for chances with be left with absolutely no option but to blame himself. As such, I expect Nando to get plenty of chances, and to put quite a few away. Even with Spain at Euro 2012, where he really wasn't that good, he managed to score three times and win the Golden Boot out based on the fantastic play of others. If I had a three of Hazard, Oscar, and Mata at full steam behind me, I could score for Chelsea. Nando should be able to get back on track.
The other big criticism against him is that he's never scored a meaningful goal at Chelsea, which is pretty much true. Even if you count the goal against Barcelona, where he merely assured the result while we were under huge pressure, rather than changed it, he has a grand total of one important goal. It's not just that he doesn't score goals that matter, it's that his scoring record has tended to be against the lesser lights of the teams we've played. I certainly would like to see him more able to come through in big games and against big teams.
Given that the most clutch player in the history of time, Didier Drogba, has left us and gone to China for one last big pay day, someone is going to have take up the mantle of the player we turn to when we need something to happen. My hope is that Fernando can do that, and also thrive under the increased pressure of being Chelsea's Number One Striker, though, sadly, history suggests otherwise. Luckily for us, having a host of amazing players like Hazard, Mata, and Oscar around him, who can also take some of that pressure, should help ease the pressure a touch.
All in all, I think we should expect him to continue the improvement seen thus far during Roberto di Matteo's reign, but we should realistic about it. Let's face it. He's probably not going to score 30 goals. Both because he's probably not going to improve THAT much, and because we now have so many players capable of sharing in the goals. Just as history has shown that Fernando Torres has tended to wilt under pressure in his Chelsea career, it shows that, even at their attacking best, teams haven't really tended to score an insane amount of goals in a season. With a limited number of goals, and plenty of threats to score them, chances are good that we won't have the sort of reliance on a single player which usually leads to 30-goal seasons.
Because of that, a 20-goal season with some assists sprinkled in would be amazing in my book. Apart from his performance, I think a distinct improvement in results to go with the personnel improvements we've made will make it irrelevant to some extent. If we're winning and scoring for fun, who's really going to give a crap how Nando's doing, so long as he's not as awful as he was pre-RDM? Sure, a mediocre season will probably be enough to see him sent on his way, as long as we're not in a place where we need to find a reason for crap results, I think we'll be less critical of Torres and all of our players. We shouldn't be looking for criticisms in the good times, at least not in the same way as when we're struggling.
I don't know what's going to happen with him. Nobody does. We can hope though, so let's all hope he can get his crap together and stops being the anchor stopping the Chelsea attack from sailing.
NB: It would be awesome if you didn't let this devolve into arguing, guys. : )