Liverpool midfielder Stewart Downing has admitted that he is unsure whether Kop boss Brendan Rodgers will decide to keep him come the end of the season, after previously telling the England international that he was free to leave the club.
Upon having his commitment and effort criticised by Rodgers, Downing worked on improving his game and is now reaping the benefits with a regular run in the team. “I was disappointed when I was told by the manager I could leave,” he said prior to Liverpool's defeat to West Brom earlier this week. “I’m happy with how it’s going at the minute, but whether that changes in the summer I don’t know.”
Downing endured a tricky first season at Anfield following his £20m switch from Aston Villa in the summer of 2011, and started the new season in a similar vein. Since speaking with Rodgers, however, his form has improved and the Liverpool wideman now enjoys a regular first team berth, starting the last 11 Premier League fixtures. But with his future still very much in the balance, we thought we'd explore whether Downing really has improved this season, by comparing the 17 league games he had played this season (before the Swansea game on 17 February 2013) with his first 17 Premier League games last year.
The emergence of Raheem Sterling and early use of Suso had an impact on Downing's fortunes at the beginning of the campaign. As such the midfielder saw his first team opportunities extremely limited, and during his rare appearances, he struggled to adapt to the Rodgers' new system.
However, upon adjusting his game to suit the new style of play, Downing has flourished, and his extended run in the first XI is testament to that. Looking at his statistics so far this season, it is noticeable that Downing's attacking game has improved. He finally has a league goal to his name, plus two assists!
So far this season the former Aston Villa man has created more chances, and enjoys a much higher passing rate than in the previous campaign, despite playing far fewer minutes than at the same point last year.
As a winger, another area which must be highlighted is Downing's dribbling. One of the many criticisms levelled at him centred around his wastefulness with the ball. He frequently ran at players, failing to create an end product, and it should come as no surprise to see that he completed little over a third of his attempted runs last campaign. This season, though, his success rate has improved, perhaps in part due to a tendency to pass more often under the management of Rodgers and, thus, attempt less dribbles.
Despite being way down the pecking order at the start of the season, Downing was afforded some playing time as a full-back early on. While the player himself admits that this is was an alien experience, it has looked to have improved the defensive side of his game. Naturally playing a more defensive role will see an improvement in such statistics, such as tackling, and interceptions, but there certainly seems to be an improvement in Downing's overall game. Since his return to the side, Downing's tendency to track back and help out his full backs is a noted positive, particularly considering Liverpool's potential weakness at left-back.
While the statistics only paint part of the picture, they do offer a good indication that Downing's overall game has improved, albeit marginally. There still remain areas for improvement, but on the whole, the wideman looks to have made a better account of himself this season. His ability to fill in as a full-back looks to have helped improved defensive aspects, while his attacking game looks, on the face of it, to be slightly more refined. Whether Rodgers decides to hold on to Downing in the summer remains to be seen, but his threats of selling the midfielder have certainly prompted a positive reaction, and he has definitely made a strong case for staying at the club.
Liverpool fans, do you feel Stewart Downing has improved this season? Should you look to keep him or sell him this summer? Let us know your thoughts, by commenting below...