On August 22nd, 2012, Fernando Torres scored the winning goal for Chelsea in a home match against Reading at Stamford Bridge. It's not the first goal he's scored for the club, and it's not the first winner he's managed either. It is, however, the first time he's really made his mark in a tight league game, offside or no. So just how important was the goal?
Many might claim it was worth two points as a game winning goal. This is nonsense -- not all game-winners are created equal, and you have to take into account the likelihood of other things happening in a match after the goal you're looking at. If Reading had never scored, would Frank Lampard's 18th minute penalty have been worth two points? No. Future events shouldn't impact our assessment of how important goals are.
When I first started writing about football, one of the first things I did was build a win probability modeller based mostly on the fact that goalscoring seems to work on a Poisson distribution. According to that model, Torres' 81st minute strike was, unsurprisingly, exceptionally important. It raised Chelsea's win probability from 19.0 percent to 87.7 percent, and dropped the likelihood of them losing from 12.9 percent to 1.0 percent. It was, in other words, a massive goal, worth 1.49 points* to the club.
*Win probability change times three plus draw probability gives you a point value.
Here's the chart in question, if you're curious:
Anyway, finding that number got me to wondering how Torres' winner against Reading stacked up to the rest of his goals. Since I have some time today, let's take a look.
- On April 23, 2011, Torres scored to make it 2-0 late in a match against West Ham United. Chelsea were already nearly guaranteed a win at that stage, but his first strike for the Blues secured it. +0.20 points.
- Sep 18, 2011. Down 3-0 at halftime, Torres latched onto a Nicolas Anelka through ball and dinked calmly over David de Gea. Gave us a very, very faint climmering of hope. +0.06 points.
- Torres got his most important Premier League strike of last season on Sep 28, 2011, when he opened the scoring in the first half against Swansea City after Chelsea new boy Juan Mata supplied him with a very cute pass. +0.89 points.
- However, he wouldn't get another league goal until Chelsea's injury-time fourth against Aston Villa on March 31st, 2012, Daniel Sturridge notching the assist with a brilliant through ball. +0.15 points.
- A hattrick against Queens Park Rangers soon followed the success at Villa Park. Torres scored Chelsea's third, fourth and fifth goals in a 6-1 rout, although one might argue the game was won even before his initial strike. +0.19 points.
Add up those seven goals and you get a total of 1.49 points, which is exactly what he earned the club with his goal against Reading alone. One of the criticisms of Torres has been that he doesn't really score important goals*, leaving them for matches that have already been decided one way or another. I know he got some help from the linesman on this one, but this goes some way towards dispelling that notion.
*We were even going through at the Camp Nou without his goal.
Hopefully this will give Torres the confidence to start banging in the goals. He's finally made a real difference in a league game, and that's something to celebrate. Hurray.