While the Luis Suarez racism case has enveloped the club for the past couple of months, intense scrutiny on the performances of certain individuals on the pitch has become somewhat slacker. Summer signing Stewart Downing, who arrived from Aston Villa for the staggering amount of £20m, appears to be a player going through a serious crisis of confidence. The disparity between his performances on the pitch and his value off it are so great at the moment that it beggars belief that he ever cost that much in the first place. Is he Dalglish’s worst signing since returning back to the club?
The gigantic white elephant in the room is, of course, Andy Carroll. The £35m frontman does himself no favours, though. Arriving at the club as the ‘big man’ to Luis Suarez’s ‘little man’, the two have played very few games together. Carroll has either been in the process of returning to full fitness or has been out injured. It has been a never-ending cycle of disappointment.
The galling thing about Carroll is the misconception that Liverpool are not playing to his strengths. The club’s summer purchases of the likes of Downing, Henderson and Enrique were all geared towards getting the best out of Carroll and getting balls into the box. Liverpool, out of all the teams plying their trade in the top flight this term have had the most crosses.
Carroll has varied between lazy and disinterested. His work-rate is at times non-existent and he simply doesn’t look as strong as the bulldozing number nine of yesteryear at Newcastle. His hold up play resembles a man trying to control a balloon and more often than not, balls played up to him come straight back.
He’s not difficult to defend against for ninety per cent of the time, yet on that rare occasion when he does threaten, he can look a real handful. Carroll has been abysmal so far, let’s make no bones about it, but his one saving grace is that there is at least something to work with there. He has the potential to be a great number nine in the future, but only if he starts to believe in that himself and focus less on the price tag hanging around his neck and more on improving his performances on the pitch.
This brings us to Stewart Downing; a player whose reputation has always proved greater than the sum of his parts. Downing should be a byword for underperformance. The creeping suspicion is that he has always struggled when there has been any pressure placed upon him. Poor England performances against the likes of Andorra and Macedonia have become a hallmark of his international career.
Downing has never been blessed with pace and his strength is supposed to lay in his delivery from wide areas. In 20 Premier League games this season, Downing is without an assist. That is not to say, of course, that he has been complete and utter pony for the entire time, but more often than not his delivery leaves a lot to be desired. Frequently unable to beat the first man, too slow to take on a full back and with a worrying propensity to come in off the flank and narrow a midfield devoid of width in the first place even further – Downing has been a huge disappointment.
A lot of the disappointment originates due to the nature of his hefty price tag. Downing always performs well when he’s a big fish in a small pond. His final season at Villa, in a side little was expected of, Downing at times outshone Ashley Young – a player who himself started brightly at Man Utd but has since gone off the boil and faded terribly.
The relative size of the Downing fee appears to derive from two consequences. Firstly, the fact that Villa themselves appeared to have overpaid for him back in 2009 when he signed for £12m, which meant that even a modicum of success at Villa Park was bound to increase upon an already sizeable valuation due to the nature of his nationality, with English talent still acquiring a baffling premium.