I initially wrote this before we played Barcelona (and his fantastic hatrick today v QPR – Ed). I am naturally overjoyed that Torres scored and delighted at how well we played, although I do not think that his goal should detract from my argument. I understand that events which have just passed seem to hold more weight in arguments, and his goal of course was well taken, but here are my thoughts on the whole situation
I feel like the time has come for me to return to writing as I have just finished my first official university examination and need a break. There is no better cathartic exercise than analysing football and the Torres debate, which has been raging for some while, needs resolving. One of the peculiarities of the Torres case is the amount of support he receives despite, in terms of goal-scoring, contributing very little. So it is therefore clear that either the large number of fans who support him are deluded in their praise of him or conversely that those who criticise him are failing to appreciate some subtleties elsewhere which are preventing Torres from flourishing. I have yet to decide where I stand and I hope that as I elaborate on some arguments that the answer will become clear to me (and perhaps everyone else as well).
The only place to begin is with his goal-scoring record; it is best to start with something which we as fans all agree on. A return of 8 goals in 44 appearances in all competitions this season is not very good. That is a very generous way of putting it. If we omit his goals from the domestic cups his record stands at 37 games and 6 goals. His record for assists is, despite the opinion of some that he is something of a creative force, is not much better; he has provided 4 in the Champions League (ESPN) and a further 4 in the Premier League, which is 1 fewer than the number Jonathan Walters has provided for Stoke in the league for reference (Official PL website). So overall his record in the 2 major competitions is 37 appearances, 6 goals, 8 assists. Or, to put it in other terms, he contributes directly to a goal 0.38 times a game. This is not me having a dig at Torres, merely relaying the facts. The facts do not impress me (and should not impress anyone else to be honest) and even the most ardent Torres supporters should find it near to impossible to defend his goal scoring record.
And here is something for those of you who like statistics. In 2009/10, Drogba scored 29 league goals, 3 in the Champions League and added 13 Premier League assists in 37 games in the two major competitions. Him and Torres played the same number of games (as it stands) and yet Drogba’s direct contribution to goals is 1.22. That is 3.2 times as many goals or assists per game that he contributed than Torres this season.
Statistics are never the preeminent means of analysing football though. If they were then Arsenal would, according the Wenger, be the greatest team to have graced the planet so I would like to avoid such a method of analysis. There are naturally other factors which have contributed to Torres’ poor contribution to the offensive aspect of our play. Do they provide an adequate defence of him though?
One argument (not mine, this has been cited by others) in his defence is the lack of creativity in midfield. It is argued that the tempo of our play is poor, the individuals in midfield are not technically good enough and that subsequently Torres does not get adequate chances to score. I agree that the team tempo is not fantastic; whether one defends or criticises Torres is irrelevant as it ostensibly clear that we do not move the ball with purpose in the way which Man Utd or the Tottenham of the earlier part of the season do. When considering that Torres’ main attribute is his pace, this proves problematic. Moving the ball slowly allows the opposition to re-group and denies him the opportunity to exploit it. This I agree with to an extent.
The argument that the players are not good enough, however, is nonsensical and quite frankly there is no logic behind it. If the quality of the players in midfield is what determines the number of chances which a striker gets (and this is the implicit argument for those who say that the midfield is not good enough) then surely every striker who plays for a team below Chelsea in the table, or the majority at least, will have had fewer chances per game. And if this is so, then surely by logical necessity they would score fewer goals unless Torres’ chance conversion rate is far lower. The fact that he is far down in the goal scoring charts thus suggests that either it is not the fault of the midfield or that his finishing is poor. For the sake of this article I would like to point out that he has had 55 shots, and scored 3 in the league (ESPN player profiles). I understand that shots can be from all sorts of positions and therefore some are more difficult than others, but the ratio of shots to goals is not high (0.055) in any case.
To put it bluntly, the argument about the midfield makes no logical sense especially when considering that we are the fifth highest scorers in the league. That means, surely, that our midfield must be creative to some degree if they are compensating for the perpetual lack of goals which are strikers are providing. Our style of play is not suited to Torres to some degree, that much is evident, but to blame the quality of the midfield is clutching at straws. Do Holt, Morison and Pilkington for Norwich have a better (or more creative?) midfield in Bradley Johnson, Jonny Howson and Andrew Surman? I tend to think not.
Another argument in his defence is that he gets into the correct positions and players either fail to find him or refuse to pass to him. I do not think anybody seriously believes that a player purposefully refuses to pass to a team-mate so I would like to eliminate such an argument immediately. Sturridge and Malouda are often cited for this and wrongly so. Everyone knows that it takes 2 players to make a good pass. For instance, Pedersen’s cross for Blackburn against Norwich for Formica’s goal would not have been considered a ‘good’ cross if Formica had not positioned himself well at the back post. So, the fact that Torres has scored so few goals can either be attributed to one of three reasons:
1) He cannot position himself properly to receive passes
2) He simply does not receive the ball at all
3) He has missed the chances he has had
I think we can safely rule out possibility 3, other than the miss at Old Trafford, the one at Blackburn and his failure to shoot against Man Utd at home when in a good position at 3-2 up. And let us not forget that he refused to take a penalty against Birmingham in the FA cup. (What possible defence can there be of that?) There are perhaps other instances but I think that in general everyone can agree that he has not had a hatful of chances. So, who is to blame for it? I don’t think for a minute that it is either 1 or 2 in their own right, nothing is ever as clear as that, but predominantly the evidence seems to suggest that it is 1. To quote Shearer:
“He no longer wants to be in a position to score because then he can’t be criticised if he misses. When Juan Mata got the ball wide [against Bolton] and looked for a fox in the box, Torres was stood outside of it. When you are on a barren run you have to get in that box, in amongst the flying heads and boots and pick up a scrap.”
Now, he may not be the greatest pundit of all time but nevertheless Shearer makes a valid point. Rarely do you see Torres in the box (he is often drifting wide) and even when he is he has a tendency to slow down or allow the defender the space he should occupy. We all watched the game against Arsenal and there was one instance when Malouda put in a low cross in the first half which was intercepted by Koscienly. Torres was free at the back post and I am in no doubt that he would have scored had he received the ball. Yet, if you watch his run closely, he does not make a diagonal dart in front of Vermaelen and Koscienly, both of whom he was initially ahead of. If he had then he would have had a tap in from 6 yards because Koscienly would not have been able to intercept the cross without giving away a penalty. Torres, in short, did not make a good run at all and in fact allowed the defenders a positional advantage.
Remember Sturridge’s goal against Tottenham away? He made a diagonal run across the defender, making the cross for Cole much simpler. The same applies for Sturridge’s goal against Man City at home. He had a simple volley on both occasions. This is something Torres does not do. Another example is the semi final against Tottenham. Again, Malouda was the provider. In this case I completely agree that Malouda should have found Torres. However, it takes 2 players to make a pass and the player without the ball surely has to make the pass as simple to make as possible. Torres was completely static and allowed King to place himself between Malouda and himself. Had Torres taken a step or two backwards, then Malouda could have played a pass along the ground rather than having to make a more difficult chip. I am not arguing Malouda is blameless, the chip was awful, but Torres could have done so much more to make the chance easier.
Is this the case all the time? Probably not. I do not possess a photographic memory so cannot cite every time Torres hasn’t had the ball when in good positions, but I am sure he has had bad service at times. That does not excuse his positional play, something which some people seem to, bizarrely, laud. Papiss Cisse’s goal on the weekend was made by both Cabaye’s pass, but a pass which was only made possible because Cisse lost his man by making a run into space. I really cannot remember Torres making such runs.
There are times when Sturridge should pass put if Torres had the same selfish streak would people be as critical? No. People tend to set different standards for different players. I support each player equally when they were the blue shirt but use the same standards for each. I am so happy that Torres scored against Barca, but would have been equally happy for any other player to have put it in the back of the net. It irritates me that a player who is one of our most talented and threatening players is constantly criticised and is our current scapegoat. Our recent revival has coincided with his removal from the team, but he could prove vital to the rebuilding we desperately need. Indeed, Sturridge does not track back enough or make tackles but frankly he has possessed a far greater threat than Torres over the course of the season. With some coaching he could be one of the most skilful players we have had in recent times and could become an adequate replacement for the wingers we lost all those years ago. And on that point, I rarely remember people criticising Robben for not tracking back or for not tackling. Double standards? If we are going to support Torres through thick and thin, which every fan should, then Sturridge is no different.
I did not have a preconceived view on the Torres debate before I sat down today but it became clear as I wrote that he is not totally blameless but he is the main problem. Whichever way you look at it, the stats tell a story. Watching him play also tells a story (he tends to leave the ball behind when he dribbles, or is it just me who thinks that?). Hopefully people will stop blaming everyone but him and stop using nonsensical arguments in his defence. If he is not right for Chelsea then so be it. Hopefully he repays the fans for their patience (and not the price fee. I have not mentioned it because that was dictated by the clubs so should have no relevance upon his performances). I hope that he builds on the goal he scored against Barca We should support him and every other player, but as the maxim goes, no player is bigger than the team. Even his biggest fans should not blame everyone else for his expense.