Stewart Downing received the ball, ran 25 yards and fired a shot at goal, rattling the woodwork at the Annie Road End at Anfield. It was his first taste of action as a Liverpool player. That impressive-looking, but ultimately impotent, charge from the wings broadly summed up his first season as a Red.
By the end of that season, Downing was being regarded as a poor player; a byword for ineffective football. Of course, we now know that he is capable of more than that. He is a useful conventional winger you can stick into most mid-table sides unhesitatingly. He was rather unfairly slapped with a £20 million price tag that he did not deserve and has struggled to live up to.
Given the number of snide barbs he accumulated over the last two years, it is easy to write off the ex-Middlesborough man as a ‘nothing’ footballer. In cold numerical terms, Liverpool have taken a major financial hit on him – £12 million by a conservative estimate. But statistics can swing both ways : Downing’s figures for 2011-12 are not so poor when weighed empirically; and he helped Liverpool win their only trophy in those 2 years with a man-of-the-match performance in the League Cup final. His departure provides an opportunity to play Monday morning centre-back, and do some reel-based analysis.
Taking a look at an EPL Index analysis, Downing didn’t really lack for creativity in 2011-12. Quoted: “His crossing accuracy of 23% isn’t something to be laughed at, while the England international created 55 chances, 11 of which were clear cut. This shows that he did manage to create chances and his poor stats may be partially down to his team-mates’ poor finishing. He created a chance every 45 minutes”.
His problems were not of his making alone, but perhaps lay at the end of the pipeline: with two wasteful finishers leading the line (Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez), Liverpool were torrid in front of goal. Unsurprisingly, the team drew or lost several low-scoring contests, particularly towards the end of season. Additionally, Kenny Dalglish’s formations were sometimes so defensive and devoid of imagination that many forwards across Europe individually outscored the entire Liverpool team that season. This helps explain why Downing’s assists column took a while to get going.
As we can see here, his second season at Liverpool was comparable to his final season at Aston Villa (when you ignore stats like ‘successful dribbles’ and come to the ones that count: chances created, goal assists etc). That final season at Villa was the most successful of his career (7 goals, 8 assists). And he was quite effective during Europa League 2012-13, recording Liverpool’s opening goal in the campaign and staying a vital player throughout.