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Stewart Downing thriving in West Ham diamond formation
West Ham continued their positive start to the season with a 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers at Upton Park and Stewart Downing was once again to the fore. Adam Bate looks at how the former England player is enjoying a renaissance in his new role within a midfield diamond formation...
Last Updated: 05/10/14 9:18pm
It’s no shock to learn that not a single player has created more chances than Cesc Fabregas on his return to the Premier League. But the identity of the player alongside him at the top of the list might be a surprise to some. Stewart Downing is the man helping to make things happen for West Ham.
Downing served up more of the same in the Hammers’ 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers on Super Sunday. It was his whipped delivery from a right-wing corner that saw West Ham open the scoring after five minutes, Nedum Onuoha putting the ball into his own net via the hand of Enner Valencia.
The second goal also came from a Downing set-piece, but there is more to this renaissance than the stereotypes regarding Sam Allardyce teams. In fact, Downing has created more chances from open play than Fabregas with only Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling able to match him in that regard. “Downing’s got a new lease of life,” says Sky Sports expert Gary Neville.
Premier League - Chances Created
|Stewart Downing||West Ham||22|
|David Silva||Man City||19|
|Player||Team||Chances (Open Play)|
|Stewart Downing||West Ham||18|
|David Silva||Man City||17|
Part of the reason for the change in fortunes has been a change in position. Allardyce’s switch to the diamond formation might have seemed an unlikely decision given his fondness for crosses - potentially sacrificing width – but the change has allowed the Hammers to get two strikers onto the pitch and it’s proving successful.
Downing’s role in the new system initially saw him play at the top of the diamond where he flourished against former club Liverpool in a 3-1 win last month. But a home game against hapless QPR offered the opportunity for Allardyce to show a little more ambition – utilising Mauro Zarate there with Downing asked to play on the left of the diamond.
While it doesn’t quite offer the same freedom, it’s still a position to which Downing is suited. Despite having turned 30 in the summer, he remains a prodigious athlete – covering 10.85 kilometres against QPR and making 55 high-intensity sprints with a top speed of 33.96km/h, superior to anyone in the opposition line-up.
Downing provided the cover that allowed Aaron Creswell forward from left-back but also performed a dual role, moving inside to ensure Alex Song was rarely outnumbered in the middle. As Allardyce has said of the switch to a central role: “Stewart’s experience means he’s made that transition very comfortably. When you have a player of his ability and you play him inside rather than outside, he gets more possession and I think that’s why he looks more impressive.”
I feel more involved playing in this new position. I'm enjoying it more.
That was certainly the case against QPR. Downing’s 57 passes were the most by any player on either team, with the 34 of them that came in the opposition half also being a game-high. “I feel more involved playing in this new position,” agrees Downing. “I'm enjoying it more, the manager wants me to be more involved. If you're under the cosh sometimes and you're on the wing you tend to do a lot of running without seeing the ball.”
Downing was keen to downplay his England ambitions when talking to Sky Sports after the game but with his form good and West Ham just a point outside the top four, the questions might not go away just yet. While Allardyce has speculated that Roy Hodgson might not see the diamond as the way forward for England, the win over Switzerland using the formation suggests different. Indeed, as unexpected as it seems, Stewart Downing might just find himself back in vogue.