While the flak he gets this season could perhaps be justified, given he firstly hasn’t played much and secondly when he has he hasn’t made much of a contribution.
But on an overall basis, to condemn the player as a bad signing is a bit harsh perhaps.
I’m sure supporting Downing is more likely to attract a number of responses along the lines of ‘armchair football expert’ and ‘Secret Manchester United supporter’ and so on.
But especially last season, he did provide Liverpool with width and pace down the flanks. It’s a different matter that his crosses almost always got turned away by the opposition defenders.
But to say that makes him ineffective is a bit like saying the milkman doesn’t deliver the milk because no one picks it up at the end of the day.
That’s been the main issue of Liverpool anyway, not creating chances but converting them. Chances keep getting created and were continued to be done so throughout last season. Downing was a major part of those chances getting created, especially when he’d double up with Jose Enrique or Glen Johnson, or even some other wingback depending which flank he was playing in.
Liverpool’s problem was in the lack of numbers attacking those balls in the final third of the pitch, and even if they were attacked, it usually ended in a tame header towards the keeper or a weak shot poked wide.
Let’s not blame the suppliers for that – it’s the finishing or rather the lack of it that’s been Liverpool’s undoing in more ways than one. Whenever chances have been grabbed with both hands, Liverpool have looked a dangerous side capable of picking up the points as well.
Now as many have been saying, one good match doesn’t prove Downing’s worth to the side. But the parameters based on which his performances are being assessed are slightly unfair.
The 4-0 result against Fulham suddenly qualifies Downing’s performance as brilliant, but there have been a lot of matches where he’s more or less done much of the same as he did against the Cottagers, but the result didn’t match the play.
His supposedly good performance against Fulham, based on which even Brendan Rodgers is saying he’d like to keep the man if displays like that become a regular thing, passes and crosses like that have been coming from him more or less every time he’s played.
The only difference this time out was, someone got on the end of some of these passes and did something with it – someone wearing the same shirt as Downing.
Basically he’s been bearing the brunt for the forwards not being lethal enough in front of goal. Luis Suarez is the only one who’s shown a decent head in front of goal, and to be honest Fabio Borini’s been in and out of the side with injury.
Now with Daniel Sturridge more or less set to come in to Liverpool, perhaps the finishing will get sharper with every passing day.
It just seems a bit unfair to judge the performances of a midfielder like Downing, on how many of his passes get converted in to goals by his colleagues.
As far as I’ve seen of the England international, he’s been putting those passes through regularly anyway. Of course I say this knowing fully well this piece will be attacked by Downing’s detractors.
Answer this though – apart from Raheem Sterling this season, who’s lately taken on opposition wing backs and twisted them inside-out to create gaps for crosses in to the box. Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson don’t count as they firstly do that anyway, yes.
But it’s also true that modern football needs a double team on either flanks to properly displace the full-backs from their comfort zones. Both Enrique and Johnson need wingers to complement their attacking prowess, and Downing is one of the wingers who has been doing that.
So why exactly are we criticising the number 19 again? Because he hasn’t dazzled every time he’s taken to the pitch, or because Liverpool haven’t scored enough goals to win matches?
The first isn’t possible all the time, and the second is something the Liverpool forwards would be more to blame for than a winger.