Stewart Downing's form on the whole over the past year and a half hasn't been anything to shout about, but the past few months have seen improvement, with the winger finding continued motivation from the threat of being dropped or sold.
We are not card-carrying members of the Stewart Downing Supporters Union and likely will never be leading the charge, but it'd be foolish to at least not acknowledge that, starting around the festive period, he's been serviceable and has contributed positives both in attack and covering defensively. He's been played almost solely on the right side of attack, and he's shown good movement and the occasional threat while also providing support for Glen Johnson and Andre Wisdom at right-back.
It hasn't exactly been a surge in form--more like a crawl towards neutrality--but it's been welcomed, and the player continues to credit his conversation with Brendan Rodgers earlier in the season as a major driving force in the improvements we've witnessed over the past few months:
"I thought I needed a chance to play as the system the manager was playing suited me. I had to fill in at left-back for a while, which I hadn't done before. But to play in my proper position higher up the field, whether it's on the right or the left, I think it's gone quite well since I was put in there. It was probably my last chance.
"He strengthened again in January with people who can play in my position, so the only thing I can do is if I keep playing well so he can't leave me out, basically. That's how I see it. Every time I play is a chance to prove him wrong and to show him I am worthy of a place in the team. The good thing about the manager is you know where you stand. You play well you're in the team, if you don't you're out of the door. It's as simple as that. That's the way I like to be managed."
What bothers some--and I'll admit that I'm not particularly upset either way--is the idea that he only started playing well to attract interest from other teams, and I imagine that these quotes won't really be met with open arms, either. Playing for the good of the team and getting results would hopefully be motivation enough, but for Stewart Downing, continually proving Brendan Rodgers' assessment of him wrong appears to be a major driving force.
He can use whatever he likes for the time being, and I'm not sure that he's someone that will be in the squad once the summer transfer window's up anyhow. For all the "playing my way into his plans" talk, this is an arranged marriage. Liverpool would have been foolish to sell Downing in January with only Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho coming in; keeping him wasn't a result of him being a player that was too skillful to lose, but rather someone who could do a job either in attack or at the painfully thin left-back position while providing time for the younger players to grow. In this regard, in this season, he was someone Rodgers couldn't leave out.
That's not going to be the case forever, but as long as it is, let's hope that he can continue to contribute something.