Liverpool recently signed Stewart Downing from Aston Villa for a figure believed to be £20m, which made him the most expensive of the club’s summer signings.
The general opinion on his performances seems to be that whilst he started the season brightly, he has since faded. As he has yet to register a goal or an assist, his contribution overall has therefore been fairly minimal.
But what do the statistics say? How has he done so far for the Reds in comparison to his form last year with Villa, for which he was voted their fans player of the season?
As I mentioned when comparing his form to that of Ashley Young, Downing will have been purchased primarily to set up chances for the likes of Luis Suárez and (in view of his excellent crossing ability) Andy Carroll. Let’s take a look at how his crossing is shaping up so far:Whilst he is crossing less often than before, more importantly his crossing is more accurate than it was. He’s also better on average than the Liverpool team as a whole this term, with their crossing accuracy currently at 23.5%. As he was brought in partly for this particular skill though, that’s to be expected.
Downing may not have any assists yet, but of course that’s not entirely his fault. I have written here about how Liverpool have not been converting enough chances; had they scored more goals then there’s every chance the Teesider might have registered an assist by now. What is within his control is the number of chances he has created for his team-mates:
To the nearest minute, he is creating at the same rate. At Villa he took a fair chunk of the set plays though, which he hasn’t been doing so much at Anfield. With Gerrard returning to fitness, Downing’s opportunities to take the free-kicks and corners will decrease even further. So how is his open-play chance creation shaping up?
If he were to play 3387 minutes this season, and continue to create open play chances at the same rate, then by season’s end he would have created 63 chances in open play; in other words, enough to finish joint 13th in last seasons chance creation rankings for the Premier League, even before you factor in the occasional set play chance he may produce for Liverpool.
No problems with his creativity then, so how’s his passing generally?
He’s passing more frequently, and more accurately which is good to see. There may of course be a simple explanation to the improved statistics seen above – he’s playing in a more attacking team, and with better players. Whilst that is certainly true, that won’t automatically make him perform well, so I think he still deserves some credit for improving his figures.
Whilst a winger like Downing will never be in the real centre of the game, at the same time it’s important that he can put in a shift defensively. Not least because Liverpool have tended to play with a two-man central midfield, which has tended to leave space for the opposition. How’s he doing on this front?
Aside from a slightly lower tackling success rate, he has improved in every other aspect. In the interests of balance with my comments above, it’s probably fair to say that Liverpool should be on the backfoot less often than Aston Villa would be, so to see his statistics improve is encouraging.
As I mentioned in the introduction, Downing has yet to score for Liverpool, though it turns out his shooting accuracy isn’t hugely lower than it was before:
So why the unrest from supporters? Ultimately, fans expect to see an immediate return when £20m is invested in a twenty-seven year old from the same country. There will be less issues in regards to settling at the team than if a player was brought in from overseas, and twenty-seven is widely considered to be around the peak age for a footballer.
Not only that, but of course the expectation level at Liverpool will always be higher than at Villa. Whatever shape the Reds are in at any point, there will always be the ‘burden’ of five European Cups and eighteen League Championships to carry on their back.
Hopefully Kenny Dalglish will persist with Stewart Downing and the forwards can convert a few of the chances he creates into goals. All his good work so far this season will then be rewarded in the eyes of the fanbase, and the pressure will dissipate. Then we might really see a good return on the £20m.