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2012-2013 Season Review: Stewart Downing

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Shhhh...Don't tell anyone that I'm a decent player!
Shhhh...Don't tell anyone that I'm a decent player!
Clive Brunskill

Key Track: Changes - David Bowie

While Downing's most fitting track from his first season in red was "Take the Money and Run", his recent campaign greatly altered supporter's opinion of him. He went from complete flop to useful player in the minds of many fans.

But what caused this change in opinion on Downing? Did his play actually improve dramatically or were fans simply more able to accept Downing for who he is as a player? Were there any other factors involved?

These questions are interesting to me, but their answers are downright fascinating. Looking at the statistics, Stewart Downing was virtually the same player last year that he was in his much maligned 2011/12 season. That's right. Below is a chart that proves this point.

STAT 2011/12 2012/13
Mins per Loss of Possession 6 6
Open Play Pass Completion % 85% 84%
Total Pass Completion % 77.18% 77.73%
Final 3rd Pass Completion % 82% 77%
Passes Per Minute 0.5 0.48
Crossing Accuracy 23% 28%
Clear Cut Chances Created 11 7
Assists 0 5
Goals 0 3

The only big difference between the seasons is that in 2012/13, Downing had 5 assists and 3 goals. But all of the peripheral stats are pretty much the same. He passed the ball with the same accuracy both seasons and actually created more clear cut chances in his first season with Liverpool. The difference in the numbers is simple: Liverpool players finished Downing's created chances this year better then they had before. The finishing of teammates which ultimately drives assist counts had nothing to do with Downing's actual performance level. This revelation confirms some of what had been previously discussed on this blog regarding Downing.

Downing also scored three more goals this year than the previous one. This too represents a slim to none improvement in performance. In his first year, Downing was the victim of poor luck as his shots hit the post more than once, including in his first match against Sunderland. His luck balanced out this year and the slightly improved goal tally accounts for this.

It seems that Downing's perceived improvement is based on his larger goal and assist numbers, two statistics that don't tell the full story about a player. Those stats are fun and easy to look at but they need to be seen in context with other numbers when assessing a player's performance.

The change in perception towards Downing is also rooted in the emotions of Liverpool supporters. During Downing's first year he was expected to be a star. When he fell short of those impossible expectations, he was heavily criticized. This year Downing had hardly any expectations placed on him so when his goal and assist totals rose he was hailed as a major improvement.

To summarize, the ch-ch-ch-ch-changes that Downing underwent were more about people's perception of him rather than about his actual play. Nevertheless, he was and is a useful player. I think that rather than going from bad to useful, he went from sneakily useful to obviously useful.

Season Rating: 6

Downing will never be a centerpiece on a team that's going anywhere but he can certainly be a role player who quietly creates chances and is productive. West Ham are reportedly trying to buy him but for the first time ever I don't unequivocally want him to leave. If he is sold for a good amount of money the I don't mind his departure. However, it seems unlikely that West Ham would offer a fee worth selling him.