FIRST half, Anfield, watching Liverpool at home to QPR. Stewart Downing having a very strong game on the right of midfield. He’s running at people, showing dangerous pace and finding men with regularity. This is a good performance. This is a good player. But something’s not right: he’s playing with Suarez, a man who creates more space and havoc in opposition defences than anyone in the league, we’ve also got Dirk and Maxi playing, QPR are rubbish, we’re at home and he doesn’t look like he’s near a goal at any time. There was no way I could see him scoring. I could see Adam scoring, I could see Johnson scoring, I could even see Dirk scoring. This lad, our biggest signing of the summer and our quickest option, no way.
And he was having a very good game.
There are two aspects to this – he was having a good game, but he was doing it over there. You know. There. Not here, where Suarez, Kuyt and Maxi kept linking up to clear cut chance effect. But there. At times Maxi/Kuyt/Suarez appeared to be having their own game to which Downing (and the rest to a lesser extent) seemed to be slightly excluded. Secondly, he just stayed over there. He doesn’t show a goalscorer’s movement. This isn’t to compare him negatively to Rush, but Johnston, Houghton, Berger. Players who can arrive to ultimate effect.
This is borne out by his career stats. From season 2004/5 (when he was 20 onwards) he’s appeared in 232 league games and scored only 26 goals. This is around one in nine. Seven and a half seasons is quite a sample. He’s not a goalscorer. One in nine is a four goal return across 38 games. This current run isn’t a confidence thing, or if it is, then confidence in front of goal has been a significant issue his entire career. If he scores two in his next five, this isn’t necessarily him turning these issues around. It is reversion to the mean.
Very few players play 38 league games any more. But if Dirk, Maxi and Bellamy did play all 38 games behind Suarez you fancy they’ll return at least five, likely closer or greater than ten league goals (though Dirk’s current lack of goals is concerning). Gerrard you’d back to get over ten, Adam at least five and probably closer to ten. Henderson’s a young player but he looks to have the makings of someone able to get it right around the area.
Below is the goal return from the last six seasons for first and fourth:
10/11 – 1st 78 / 4th 72
09/10 – 1st 103 / 4th 67
08/09 – 1st 68 / 4th 68
07/08 – 1st 80 / 4th 67
06/07 – 1st 83 / 4th 63
05/06 – 1st 72 / 4th 68
Currently we’re on 18 goals from 15 games. A marked improvement will be required. Across the season, per position what we’d need for the above is something like:
– Whoever plays up top, Suarez/Carroll/new player, we probably need 30 from them combined.
– 30 from the 3 or 4 playing in midfield/between the lines excluding The Lucasian position
– odds and sods (including The Lucasian Position).
If the side plays two up every week then front two can weigh in with 30 – 45 goals between them. But we play our best stuff with Suarez up top and movement behind. He creates that space for those players to play in. The three that look best behind him this season are Maxi, Bellamy and Kuyt, yet none stands out as must start. That Downing hasn’t managed to force himself into that category in the absence of Gerrard, to stand short in a field where few are standing tall, has to be a concern.
It’s a less marked, less expensive spin on the Carroll issue. Indeed, the line was that Downing had been bought to supply Carroll. But while Carroll cost a lot more, he’s a younger player of a type players tend to grow into and far less experienced. This should be Downing’s peak, a time when his brain and body are unified towards playing the best football of his career. And if Downing was bought to get the best out of Carroll then that means a shift from our best football discussed above.
To reiterate, he’s a good, good player. He’s shown he’s international class. He’s not a white elephant (as Carroll currently feels) and he’s created a lot of good chances. But we aren’t short of creators. Suarez, Adam, Gerrard are all creative. Henderson will be, Lucas can be. Maxi and Dirk are creative players, indeed the latter supposedly laid on six chances against QPR despite a curate’s egg of a performance. Yes, Downing brings width but the width can come from two very, very good attacking full backs.
Back watching QPR. Second half, Liverpool one nil up and doing well. The thought occurs – if we’d had a tough game midweek against Dortmund in the Champions League, we’d returned to play QPR and made three changes weakening our front four, bringing Maxi, Dirk and Downing in then I’m made up. I’m thinking “this side can do brilliantly top four and beyond this season.”
But that isn’t the case. We didn’t have that game and Downing was our biggest signing of the summer, yet already he seems like little more than a squad option, albeit a good one. The concern isn’t that he hasn’t yet shown most of what he has. The concern is that he doesn’t have that much more to give in the specific area we most need to improve to hit our overriding fourth place target for the season. Goals pay the rent. And Downing has never looked a player to pay his share.