As usual, the season so far, for Liverpool FC, has been a roller coaster that would rival the Big Dipper at Blackpool (does that even still exist). One second you’re on the way up only to be on the way down again, emotionally that is. The excellent mood of the last two or three weeks came to a pretty depressing end on Saturday.
Rather than concentrate on the situation that has occurred between Manchester United and Liverpool I’d rather move onto to another topic that was on most Liverpool supporter’s mouths on Saturday: Stewart Downing.
Stewart Downing was pretty poor on Saturday and it was magnified even further because we were losing to the mighty foe, however does Downing still deserve to be given a chance? Has Downing, literally, run out of chances? I’m going to try and use Opta’s brilliant statistics from the EPL Index Stats Centre (subscribe here, worth every penny!) to try and see what has happened to Downing.
Firstly I’d like you all to answer this question:
Is Stewart Downing the fall guy because he hasn’t scored or because he hasn’t got an assist?
Far too much emphasis is placed upon the goals and assists statistic, however I agree that achieving neither this season is a failure for Stewart. So how are his stats in comparison to last season where he scored seven and assisted seven goals? Let’s take a quick look.
Please note I’m not going to make excuses for Stewart Downing, nor am I a basher. All I am doing here is placing the stats in front of you to decide what you think?
The reason I’m going over defensive is stats to show some pretty weird coincidences. Downing’s Tackle Success for example is EXACTLY the same as at Villa. I know, I know who cares about tackling however as a Stats freak I just noticed it and thought it was weird. The eery coincidences don’t end there though – a 33% aerial duel win percentage and a fairly similar 50-51% ground duel points at Stewart not really under-performing in the defensive part of his game.
Right, pretty pointless so far? This is leading to something… I promise.
Ok so the passing and creativity statistics are a little different. Stewart has improved his passing but not passing forward as much – sign of a lack of confidence maybe? Big club syndrome? Only Stewart knows, we’re just here to give you the stats. Successful dribbles are very similar once again with Downing being successful with 48% of his dribbles last year and 47% this year (not shown above but taken from the Quick Stats Season area in the Stats Centre). Similarities return for minutes per chance created, 40 minutes for Villa and 43 minutes at Liverpool. Although the number of crosses have decreased from Downing the crossing accuracy is very similar once again.
One major difference is the set play chances created. Stewart is creating a lot less with set-plays as there are so many others to take them in the Liverpool side with Adam, Bellamy, Henderson & now Gerrard all willing takers. The massive deficit is the total goal assists obviously. For there to be some sort of similarity to his form at Villa he’d have three or four assists by now, however we’ll come back to this later.
The similarities don’t end there. When it comes to shooting, the shot accuracy is very close to last years with 42% last year and 41% accuracy this year. The minutes per shot is slightly improved this season at 52 minutes as compared to 55 last year. The minutes per shot on target is also similar with 130 last year and 125 minutes per shot on target this year.
The major difference here is converting the chances. But isn’t this the problem of the whole Liverpool side? The fact that the team has a chance conversion of 8.5% (still the lowest in the league) points to everything that is wrong with the side at the moment. Going back to the number of Downing’s assists, surely the poor chance conversion that Liverpool achieve at the moment points to why Downing doesn’t have an assist at the minute. Surely not all of Stewart Downing’s chances created are as described by Liverpool supporters on our twitter account:
“…he creates difficult chances to finish.”
“…that’s hardly a chance that.”
“…I coulda made that pass.”
The fact is Liverpool are finding it difficult to score. We’ve mentioned it so many times on AnfieldIndex.com that we’ve gone blue in the face. An assist is a TWO-WAY relationship. One player creates, one player finishes. Downing is creating, he’s creating as much as he did last year even without taking the majority of set pieces so he’s in fact performing better in open play but overall very similar.
He managed more assists last year maybe due to the next two reasons:
1) Aston Villa’s 13% chance conversion last season
I bet you’re thinking: “Big deal – it’s only another 4%”. However if Liverpool had converted 13% of their chances they’d be sitting on 44 goals instead of a paltry 29. So that 4.5% accounts to 15 goals. I say it again, out of those 15 goals I’m sure Downing would have had a lot of the assists. I can remember so many times this season where Downing has created a simple chance for it to be headed against the bar or post or even put wide.
Fifteen goals is a massive amount of goals and if you split these goals into the main five providers in the Liverpool side: Adam, Downing, Suarez, Gerrard & Bellamy and split the assists you’d get 3 assists each which would mean that Downing would have hit a very similar amount of assists, pro-rata, to last season. Again I’m not making excuses I’m giving you stats which show that the main culprit is the lack of finishing in the side and that Downing is definitely one of those culprits looking at the stats above.
2) Lack of Confidence: Small Fish in Big Pond?
Is Downing suffering from the big club syndrome? No disrespect at all to Aston Villa, a massive club, however the pressure at Anfield will be much more magnified. The lack of success on the pitch may be getting to him, especially in the statistical era we have entered, where these stats are flying around twitter (partly our fault at AI). Judging by Sky’s attempts to throw Liverpool’s Chance Conversion in Kenny’s face after the Spurs game you can see that the statistics provided by Opta and published to the fan base by us are definitely getting prominence now. This will affect the player and hurt his confidence, everything is magnified and is definitely playing a part on Stewart.
I agree that he’s not been on form when you look at the very simplistic goal and assist statistics however if you take a good look at the statistics above Stewart Downing is performing at a very similar level to last season which earned him Villa’s Player of the Year award. The real issue is that one issue that keeps coming back to haunt us: Chance Conversion. The team is just not converting their chances and this includes Stewart so if anything blame Liverpool FC as a whole for not being competent in front of goal, however let’s not try and make a fall guy here for the entire team’s failure.
Whilst many believe that Stewart Downing is running out of chances, we believe that he’s got plenty more running in him yet.
All of the stats in this article are from the Superb EPLIndex.com Stats Centre featuring Opta Stats. Subscribe Now for acces.