The tactical switch behind Stewart Downing’s struggles with West Ham this season

Downing Liverpool

West Ham's Stewart Downing is struggling to match the form he showed at the beginning of this season.

Downing was in exceptional form before Christmas, creating and scoring chances aplenty at the tip of Sam Allardyce’s new-look diamond formation.

It was the first time in his career that he has played as the number 10, and with strikers ahead of him willing to run wide to create space, Downing excelled as the Hammers rose into the top four places by the start of 2015.

However, the second half of his campaign has progressed in a much more dour manner, having scored just one goal and registered two assists since the turn of the year.

Many would suggest that this is Downing’s fault, or, if not his fault, at least the natural progression of a footballer who has rarely enjoyed a full season of consistently strong form.

Yet, it is no surprise that Downing’s collapse from creative force to wasteful veteran occurred following his move from the number 10 role onto the wing.

Admittedly, that tactical switch was not his fault, as injuries forced Allardyce to revert from a 4-4-2 to a 4-4-1-1, but rather than keep Downing as the number 10, the former Villa and Liverpool man was pushed out wide to accommodate the lumbering presence of Kevin Nolan.

And since that moment, Downing has struggled.

When playing through the middle, Downing’s one-footedness does not come to the fore, as he has nowhere to run except forward. This works perfectly, as he is good enough with the ball at his feet to confuse defenders when dribbling towards them.

However, when pushed out wide, he consistently plays the ball onto his stronger foot, making him far too predictable for a Premier League level winger. He either starts on the right and looks to cut in, or plays on the left and consistently plays crosses into the box.

His lack of creativity when not playing centrally has played a key role in preventing a continuance of his great form, and Allardyce’s tactical switch to the flat midfield four with wingers - with Downing as one of those wingers - is arguably the main reason the East London club have failed to match their European ambitions well into the second half of the campaign.

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