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.
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.
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.
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.