We’ve been fortunate in recent years. New signings have, largely, hit the ground running for Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
They’ve represented coherent parts of the footballing jigsaw puzzle, slotted in, and performed. Expectations, often, have been exceeded.
This is appreciated all the more, partly, because it is not always the case.
It’s not always easy to put a finger on why. Sometimes a player just doesn’t hit the heights in their new context. Sometimes the puzzle isn’t appropriately endearing.
Often, arguably, it is a bit of both.
It felt like that was the case for both Stewart Downing and Lazar Marković.
Neither’s form or numbers were, ultimately, good enough. Although it could also be argued that they somewhat fell foul of transition periods for the team.
Following an £18.5m move from Aston Villa, Downing spent just two seasons at the club – 2011/12 and 2012/13 – and those saw the Merseysiders first finish eighth in the Premier League under Kenny Dalglish and then seventh under Brendan Rodgers.Embed from Getty Images
After his £19.8m transfer from Benfica, Serbian international Marković may have been a Liverpool player until late January 2019, but the one year where he made competitive appearances – 2014/15 – marked Rodgers’ final full season and brought a sixth-place finish which, at the time, represented a disappointing follow-up to 2013/14’s title challenge and runners-up spot.
Both formed part of busy summer transfer windows for the Reds as the squad was somewhat restructured, rather than refined.
It felt, often, as though they were tasked with finding a place within it, as opposed to slotting into an already coherent unit.
Crossroads can be picked out in the Liverpool careers of both.
Downing’s stunning run and thumping of the crossbar from 25 yards on his debut against Sunderland saw the then 27-year-old come within inches of a dream start to life at Anfield.
He would, in the end, fail to register a goal or assist in 36 league appearances in his first season. Needless to say, that was a thoroughly underwhelming return. Rarely did it feel like it was for the want of trying, however.
He created plenty of openings, but this was a season when the Reds’ finishing – and, to a degree, fortune – in relation to goalscoring chances left plenty to be desired.
The fact they hit the woodwork more than 30 times in the 2011/12 Premier League paints some of that picture.Embed from Getty Images
Even when Downing was playing well, the bits around him were rarely functioning at maximum efficiency.
He did, though, register two goals and two assists in the run to the FA Cup final, which included teeing-up Andy Carroll’s strike in the 2-1 Wembley defeat to Chelsea with an excellent sliding challenge on José Bosingwa.
The Middlesbrough academy graduate also won the man of the match award at the national stadium a little over two months earlier, when the Reds overcame Cardiff City on penalties to claim the League Cup.
His debut campaign was more than that statistically blank Premier League campaign.
Undeniably, he didn’t offer enough end-product but that did improve slightly in his second season – this time under the stewardship of Rodgers – where he registered five goals and seven assists in all competitions.
The Northern Irish boss spoke – midway through the campaign – about having positive discussions with Downing on how he could work his way back into the team, following a spell of little game-time for the Teessider.
He also spoke of Downing’s positive response, which included a brief and relatively productive spell at left-back.
Critically speaking, though, this could be seen as another example of the squad’s comparative lack of balance at that time. Chopping, changing and tweaking was often more present than continuity which – of course – isn’t uncommon in a manager’s debut season.Embed from Getty Images
His pace, directness and dangerous left-foot represented a notable weapon for the Reds, particularly in the latter months of 2012/13 as Rodgers’ side began to show signs of the high-intensity, high-scoring football that would take them to within touching distance of the 2013/14 title.
Downing, though, would leave for West Ham that summer having registered seven goals and nine assists in 91 appearances for the club.
A disappointing return, but one that could – in all likelihood – have been stronger had he joined the team in one of its more coherent phases.
The same could, arguably, be said for Marković.
The Reds were somewhat rebuilding after the departure of Luis Suárez when the Serbian arrived from Benfica in the summer of 2014.
Given Marković was only 20 at the time, though, a certain level of rawness also feels like it was a factor.
He struggled to establish himself during the early months of 2014/15 as Liverpool, simultaneously, struggled for form.
His first real run of games did, in fact, coincide with the Reds finding some consistency.
That run of appearances came at wing-back. Marković’s pace and willingness to carry the ball proved a potent weapon on both the right and left flank as Rodgers’ switch to a 3-4-3 shape in December 2014 bore fruit.
He struck his first goal for the club in a 3-1 League Cup quarter-final win at Bournemouth on December 17, while at left wing-back, but he had probably earned that opportunity in a brief stint eight days earlier.Embed from Getty Images
On December 9, he had been introduced for Rickie Lambert at half-time in Liverpool’s 1-1 Anfield Champions League draw with Basel – which ultimately saw the Merseysiders drop into the Europa League.
The 20-year-old made an immediate impact. He upped the tempo and gave Rodgers’ men – at that stage 0-1 down – an additional source of directness and purpose.
That impact lasted less than 15 minutes, however. In the 60th minute, Marković was shown a straight red card by referee Björn Kuipers – who took charge of Sunday’s Euro 2020 final – after his attempt to fend off Behrang Safari saw him effectively flick his opponent in the eye.
It was a cruel early exit for the youngster, but it did seem to build the foundation for his best spell of the season.
He followed up the Bournemouth goal with the winner at Sunderland on January 10 and the opener in a dramatic 3-2 Anfield win over Spurs a month later – a match where he instead operated as part of the front-three.
Steadily, though, as winter turned to spring, he began to drift out of the team once more. Those months in the middle of 2014/15 would represent the height of his Anfield impact.
Again, he can be considered unfortunate to have come into a team and squad that was struggling for identity – and consequently saw him make many of his appearances in positions that weren’t seen as his most natural.
Beyond that first season, he didn’t do enough to add to his 34 competitive appearances for the club.
Before joining Fulham at the end of the January 2019 transfer window, Marković had loan spells at Fenerbahçe, Sporting Lisbon, Hull City and Anderlecht.
A combination of injury issues and a lack of fitness and consistency meant he struggled to nail down places or longer-term stays. Indeed, he only remained at Fulham until the end of 2018/19.Embed from Getty Images
He does look to have become more settled recently, though, as he has remained at boyhood club FK Partizan since September 2019.
Context should be considered an important factor in the relative lack of success experienced at Anfield by both Downing and Marković.
The foundations of the squads they joined simply weren’t as firm as they have been in recent times – and that would have made life more difficult.
Nonetheless, they will almost certainly still feel that they could have played a better part in the respective building processes that followed.
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