Having watched Liverpool in the new 3-5-2 formation which utilises the use of old fashioned wing backs, it dawned upon me after the West Brom game that maybe Stewart Downing could have flourished in this system as a left wing back.
Downing joined Liverpool from Aston Villa in 2011 for a reported £20million, which seemed like too much to be paying for such a player. But this was during the Damien Comolli days at Liverpool where players were just being signed for ridiculous amounts of money. Downing was named Aston Villa’s best player before joining the Reds, so he arrived with some bit of credibility and as fans we expected a lot from Downing.
But during his first season at the club he struggled. During his final season under Brendan Rodger he seemed to perform slightly better towards the tail-end of the season but maybe this was just him trying to get himself into the shop window for the summer. During his time at Liverpool, Downing only managed three goals and five assists in two full Premier League seasons. Now for a player who is meant to be an attacking winger, that was a poor return.
Downing was asked to slot in at left back on a few occasions during his spell at the club and in that position he did reasonably well. Liverpool never really played many games with the 3-5-2 formation compared to this season and I wonder if maybe Downing would not have been better suited at left wing back now than in the left / right wings roles he was being asked to play?
Jose Enrique and now Aly Cissokho have been filling it at left wing back and one thing they both struggle with is playing in the attacking third of the field. This is where Downing would have performed better than the two given his attacking instincts. We have a great attacking option down the right in Glen Johnson but that is not replicated down the left. In the 3-5-2 formation, you rely on your wing backs to give you the attacking width you need but we are only really getting that from Johnson. Having Downing there would have given us great width down both flanks.
From a defensive aspect, Enrique and Cissokho are both better defending than they are attacking. In the few games Downing featured for the Reds at left back, you could see defending was not his strong point but he handled it well and with more work on the training ground he could have done better. In terms of pace to get up and down the flanks, even though Downing is now 29-years old, he still has a decent amount of pace on him, probably more than Enrique and Cissokho.
I know there is no point dwelling on the past and the ‘what could have beens’ but this Downing option is something I wanted to share with other fans and get their thoughts on. I know a large majority of us did not like Downing at Liverpool and are glad he is now at West Ham but given a chance and opportunity, would he not have done well at left wing back?