Stewart Downing: The Polariser

Downing thinking about leaving Villa

Is he good enough? The emergence of Aston Villa and England winger Stewart Downing’s name as a potential target for Liverpool’s almost-bare flanks has stoked the fires of debate ahead of the summer transfer window. While he has had a solid campaign culminating in winning Villa’s Player of the Season accolade, many LFC fans wonder if he has what it takes to make the grade at Anfield. Such is the divide in opinion, it seems important to give both sides a fair hearing.


Video by LFC fan and video compiler ElPistoleroJFT96

For a fantastic every-touch video of Stewart Downing in action against Manchester United by none other than the marvellous MilanKakaBaros, click this link.

The Negative
Liverpool fans older than me are used to associating the left wing position with the explosivity of John Barnes and the mazy dribbling skills of Steve McManaman. Our best teams have had quality, skill and speed in wide areas, and most fans would like to see the Liverpool of the future similarly equipped. It would be unfair to compare Downing to such legends, as rather than being top quality, it appears he is only quite good.

Dribbling is not a strong point for Stewart Downing. Before you shoot me down, read this stat: Downing only produces 0.7 successful dribbles per game, as opposed to 3.3 for Charles N’Zogbia and 2.7 for Nani. For reference, our Dirk makes 0.9 successful dribbles per match, which is also surprisingly equivalent to Ashley Young’s output.

His crossing accuracy is only 24% – an average figure rather than a poor one – but still sees him languish well behind Antonio Valencia (30%), Matt Jarvis, Young and Florent Malouda (all 31%). It is hard to justify recruiting a winger who doesn’t dribble often, and whose crossing is not top-drawer in terms of accuracy and success.

The Positive
Downing does create a lot of scoring chances for his team: 77 for the season, about as many chances as teammate Young and slimy goober Nani have created. His output of goals and assists is respectable too – 7 of each is not bad work in a team who struggled for the majority of the campaign.

Predominantly a left-footer, Downing is more comfortable on the left flank than any of our current wing options (Maxi loves getting in the box rather than hugging the touchline). His pass completion rate is a respectable 69% and he is able to strike the ball with either foot far more comfortably than most players can. In fact if anything, Downing’s strength is that he can do a bit of everything – shoot off both sides, make neat passes, loop in crosses from out wide, play through-balls and cut in from either flank. He even works hard tracking back and ensures he gets on the ball very regularly.

Crucially for Liverpool, Stewart Downing has so far avoided the plague of recurring or serious injuries, managing to appear in all 38 league games for Villa this season. If we are building a squad worthy of gaining Champions League qualification and possibly even having a crack at the title, then oft-injured players should be avoided like Monday’s seafood.

The Verdict
Stewart Downing is a versatile and capable player. While he is not an elite talent by any stretch of the imagination, he is better than what we currently have and would improve the wing options within the squad. What he lacks in explosive skill and speed he gains in intelligent movement, good ball use, versatility and willing team play.

However, he is not the player to help us immediately bridge the gap between us and our rivals. He is not a player we desperately need, nor would he become a superstar at Liverpool, and the question will remain with us until it can be finally resolved:

Is he good enough?

Some required reading:

Firstly, this excellent statistical comparison of Premier League wingers by the folk at Anfield Index.

A wonderful post on RAWK by Juan Loco, highlighting more positives about Downing’s game than I included in my article.

And finally another RAWK post by rafathegaffa83 looking at some alternative stats on Downing and directly comparing him to Ashley Young.

Happy reading fellow stat-nerds.

  • Lewis

    Of course he’s good enough, he’s the best left winger in the Premierleague at the moment. If he’s good enough for Arsenal then surely he’s good enough for us. Also, I think Villa know a bit more about their player of the season than you or I, you are underrating Downing. He’s got 8 goals (7 in the league) and 10 assists (9 in the league) this season in 40 games (38 in the league), much better than any left winger in the league, 1 name that comes to mind is Bale, he’s been far better than Bale this season. He’s also operated on both sides, the right and the left and effectively. Have a look at the Villa forums, they value Downing at £20-25m, if we get him for £15m it would be a good bit of business and we’d finally have a REAL left winger. Haven’t had one since Kewell, maybe Riera. Get him before Arsenal do!

  • Tony

    I have to agree the lad is a good player, as for this ‘not elite player’ class, i disagree. He is a complete player for me, good balance running with the ball and quick. I heard yesterday that Ashley Young is wavering on the mancs as they have wingers already, maybe we will sign both players and play Downing on the right?????

  • Lewis

    Also, Downing isn’t slow as this article suggests, he’s one of the fastest players in the league on and off the ball. He is direct, beats players for pace and puts in great balls into the box unlike Young who likes to cut in all day.

  • sam

    if we can find the money to have a downing in the squad and not let him come here thinking im getting games then fine, but if we are signing him to be first chioce then not for me.

    Good solid pro that he is, with no bad injury to his name and with him being quick but not fast, and with his crossing and makes chances then is he a good team player – yes. But is he a starter for the first 11 – NO WAY FOR ME.

    rather we over paid for two quality players rather than signing 6 players.

    we need; cissohko at left back.
    aguero – can play anywhere down the flanks and out up top with or without a partner.
    matuidi – monster of a player who will get better and better, we need that powerhouse player who can fill in for a gerrard or a lucus and or to help gerrard out when we need a man to stop play and then feed the great stevie.
    sakho at center half would be great to, young fit, strong, would link with cissohko too, and will get better and better.

    that my pick at a cost of £ 95 mill.

    sell the 11 players and we al know who they are, recoup around 28- 30 mill and thats a net spend of around £65 mill, if we cant do that then we are not going anywhere next year.

  • Lewis

    You named 4 players most of which are overrated or unproven in the Premierleague (except Aguero, he’s world class) and none of which are wingers…We NEED Downing more than any of those players.

  • Grubb

    For me a player isn’t good enough unless they do it with the Liverbird on their chest. I actually like Downing, and as I stated above, think he would be a big improvement on our current wing options. However he is untested at the top level, and needs to produce the same kind of performance in a red shirt to justify the tag of ‘best left winger in England’.

    Also the stats seem to suggest he is very good, without being categorically ‘the best’. If you play on the left wing at Liverpool, Barnes is the benchmark, not Kewell or Riera. Downing is not in Digger’s league (although few are) and so the ‘not elite class’ thing is going to stick sorry.

    Finally, in my defence, I tried to write a balanced article with positives and negatives being highlighted. I did 3 paragraphs of each, so it would be unfair to say that I said he’s not good enough. I just asked the question ‘is he?’

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