Quite why Romelu Lukaku is plying his trade away from parent club Chelsea for a second successive season is beyond the best of us. The Belgian 20-year-old is behind only Liverpool's in-form striker partnership of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero in the Premier League goalscoring stakes, while Chelsea's centre-forwards have just two goals between them. Blues fans were made to wait 696 minutes into the season for the first of those when Samuel Eto'o netted against Cardiff, and only in the 90th minute of their ninth match did Fernando Torres finally break his duck for the season.
Even then it was an opportunistic goal that was born of the latest mistake from under-fire England goalkeeper Joe Hart, upon which Torres pounced to net what could well be the easiest goal Chelsea score all season, but at the same time, it may also be one of the most important.
But take nothing away from the striker, who continued against City to show initiative and desire to prove himself to the home crowd at Stamford Bridge. He is also building up something of a wall of resistance to criticism that has come with his failure to pay back the £50 million spent on him in the January of 2011. He was rightly lambasted for blazing a sitter over the bar early on in the game, but responded shortly after by leaving pacy left-back Gael Clichy in his wake on the right wing to lay on the simplest of tap-ins for a grateful Andre Schurrle to open the scoring.
Just moments later he was beating the other full-back and crashing a fantastic curved attempt off the woodwork with Hart well beaten. In the space of seven first half minutes, the Spain forward had gone from misfiring flop to unstoppable record signing superstar. The question that has persisted whenever Torres has shown signs of form at Chelsea is arguably at its most poignant; can he maintain some level of consistency and perform week-in, week-out for the Blues?
In the year of a World Cup and with reigning champions Spain undoubtedly weakest in the striker department, Torres has another opportunity to both lead his country to glory and to add to his Golden Boot at Euro 2012. Even Swansea's Michu was called up for the recent qualifiers against Belarus and Georgia, but Torres will have hoped to grab Vicente del Bosque's attention with a goal and assist on Sunday.
The performance won Torres a WhoScored.com rating of 9.19 -- the second highest he has ever achieved in a Chelsea shirt -- and a subsequent man of the match award. Notably, in the game immediately after each of his six previous man of the match awards since moving to London, he has produced significantly worse displays. That is, the rating he has managed the match after being the best player on the pitch has always been vastly inferior. He followed up his best ever Chelsea performance -- a 9.99 rating against QPR in April 2012 -- with a dour 6.04 against Liverpool; after hitting 8.68 against Newcastle in August of last year, he could only manage a 6.56 out of 10 at QPR. There has been an astonishing inconsistency to his performances at Chelsea that he now has a chance to amend after his latest display.
While Demba Ba seems some distance from a serious contender for the lone striker berth at Chelsea, Torres will need to be at his best if he is to hold off competition from Samuel Eto'o, who has looked off the pace but certainly has the capability to outperform Torres if he hits form. Meanwhile at international level, the other options up front leave Torres with a real opportunity.
Michu was given that recent stint for the national side but failed to take advantage on his debut, lasting only a goalless 57 minutes before being withdrawn against Belarus and remaining an unused substitute in their next match. Michu has only one more Premier League goal than Torres, but has now gone nearly seven and a half hours without scoring. He has also netted at a conversion rate of 7.4 percent compared to Torres' 7.7 percent; only a marginal difference but it is worth noting that the latter has had to be content with playing a bit-part role while Michu will have benefitted from regular starts at Swansea.
Negredo, meanwhile, scored after coming on for Michu against Belarus and then again in their next game against Georgia, whilst also contributing three goals and two assists for City despite only starting five of their nine Premier League games. A vastly different player to Torres, the former Sevilla man has failed to win a place in the starting lineup for Spain given how incompatibly his strength and ability in the air are with Spain's tika-taka football. All the while, Tottenham's Roberto Soldado has still only netted once from open play all season and is doing little to prove he is worthy of playing for the best national side on the planet, and the ageing David Villa struck twice for Atletico at the weekend but is arguably better suited out wide in Spain's lineup, where he may struggle to oust Pedro.
There is certainly reason for Chelsea fans and Torres alike to be optimistic after his performance at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, but given how inconsistency has been the theme of his Chelsea career, time -- and his next match in particular -- can only tell if he can do enough to finally begin to pay back that hefty fee.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.