Born in Brentwood, Essex, Flynn Downes joined the Ipswich Town academy at the age of seven. He made his professional debut in 2017, on opening day against Birmingham City. He was loaned out to Luton Town on the deadline day of that season’s winter transfer window. Following a successful loan spell, where he helped Luton gain promotion to EFL League One, he returned to his parent club.
Paul Lambert was announced as the new coach for Ipswich back in October 2018. Ever since the appointment, Downes has become a regular starter for the Tractor Boys. After having an impressive full first season, Downes hasn’t slowed down this year. Having shown some clear improvements, he has made the central midfield spot his own. He fits perfectly in Lambert’s tactics.
In this tactical analysis, we will look at Flynn Downes’ style of play, both with and without the ball. With the help of statistics, we will aim to provide a comprehensive analysis and scout report on the player.
First, we will take a look at how Flynn Downes compares to some of his contemporaries. This chart covers some basic statistics and shows which percentile Downes ranks in, in each respective statistic.
Note that this comparison is amongst central midfielders who have played at least 900 minutes in the league this season.
Downes played most of his minutes on the right-hand side of the midfield, but he did feature on the left side as well. You can see his heatmap for the current season below.
On the ball
Flynn Downes’ best ability is his passing. He averages 41.53 passes per 90 at a success rate of 83.7%, which ranks him 28th in the league amongst midfielders. He has a good first touch which allows him to keep the ball close to him. However, his passing volume is low for a number 8. Although his current volume is indicative of Ipswich’s average possession (49%), it can certainly be increased. This will be important if Downes ever wants to move to a possession heavy team.
In Ipswich’s build-up, Downes plays a big role. He is tasked with advancing the ball from the first phase to the second phase. Downes has a tendency of picking up great positions which allows him to constantly be available as a passing option. Here’s an example of his intelligence:
As Downes is receiving the ball from one of the centre-backs, he notices the other centre-back is free and isn’t being pressured. He has already decided his next move before he even receives the ball. After receiving the ball, he quickly passes it to the far side centre-back.
As the next pass would be from the centre-back to the left-back, Downes moves towards the left side of the pitch. As he is moving along with the ball, he can keep up with the play and Ipswich’s build-up isn’t disrupted. Even though this might seem very basic, it’s an important part of a central midfielder’s role in the team. Such a movement doesn’t delay the scheme and maintains the flow of attack, which is important for every team. Relocation after giving up the ball is a salient feature of good midfielders.
Downes doesn’t seem to be afraid of being pressured by opponents. He seems to keep his composure and his receiving technique helps neutralise the pressing of the opposition.
As he’s receiving the ball, he scans around and sees two players rushing towards him. He receives the ball with an open stance and therefore can quickly pass it to the centre-back. This technique helps him evade pressuring opponents and limit his turnovers. But there is one little problem here. This technique leaves the ball exposed in some situations and it could lead to losing possession if Downes is tackled. He could fix this by drawing the receiving side of his body in close, thereby limiting the exposure.
Downes is fairly decent at circulating the ball. He is extremely efficient at short and medium passing. This season, he has attempted 130 short and medium passes combined and he has a completion rate of 87%. Being such an efficient passer helps his team retain possession, without losing it in dangerous areas.
Downes’ ability to disguise his passes is what enhances his passing skills. He often gives the eyes to opponents. He fools them by directing them towards a particular area of the pitch, before quickly changing the direction of his body and playing a pass elsewhere.
Here, his eyes indicate that he is passing to the centre-back. This forces the opposition to move across the pitch, towards the direction of the ball. Downes then contracts his body and plays a line-breaking pass to his teammate, splitting the gap between those two defenders.
Long passing is where most of Downes’ trouble lies at. His vision isn’t bad but he struggles to execute them. He seems to release the ball at the wrong time and the weight of the pass isn’t quite right either. He has attempted 13 long passes this season and only completed 5 of them, at a mediocre rate of 38%. The focus should be on being more patient on the ball and wait for the opportunity to present itself, instead of forcing things. This will increase his long passing accuracy.
Downes is good at spotting the runs made by his teammates. He can identify the spaces and channels in which he should put the ball in. Again, his execution in these situations could improve but having the vision to spot these passes is a good sign.
Here, he sees his teammate make a run and point where he wants the ball to be played. Even though a defender is charging in on him, he maintains his composure and plays the pass.
Such passes are important in semi transitions and in situations where the defensive shape of the opponent is compromised. It is pleasant to see that Downes has this kind of a pass in his locker.
Another problem for Downes would be his reliance on the right foot. He isn’t particularly two-footed and this limits his passing ability. Working on his left foot would improve not only his passing but his overall game as well. After all, being two-footed hasn’t ever hurt anybody.
His ball progression isn’t impressive, but that’s partly down to his role in the team. He does make 4.01 progressive passes per 90. While this may look great at first, it should be known that this only ranks him in the 35th percentile. He doesn’t make a lot of incisive passes either. Only one of his passes have led to a shot this season.
But he makes 0.77 progressive runs per 90. Conversely, this might not seem impressive, but he ranks in the 50th percentile in this statistic. Downes’ dribbling is relatively decent. He isn’t a great ball carrier, but not a bad one either. He attempts 2.54 dribbles per 90, with a succession rate of 65.8%. Having a high centre of gravity makes it difficult for him to maintain close control of the ball. He isn’t able to protect the ball as much as he’d like to when running with the ball. He doesn’t always select the best route while dribbling and thus often runs into a wall of defenders. This results in frequent and unnecessary turnovers. He’s much more comfortable at sitting deep and making his team tick than being adventurous up the pitch.
This clearly shows that Flynn Downes’ profile as a midfielder is that of a screener rather than a creator.
Off the ball
Generally, Downes seems to have good spatial awareness. Just like he does on the attacking end, he’s able to identify spaces on the defensive end as well. There are some moments where he loses focus and takes up the wrong position though. He’s also able to track his man’s movement around the pitch fairly well, but there are some lapses here too.
Downes is quite mobile on the pitch and this can be seen in his pressing. He is aggressive and often commits into a challenge. These are all important traits, but the problem here is he can sometimes be a little too aggressive. Every so often, he leaves his position and goes out to press an opponent. This leaves space in behind, which can be detrimental to his team.
Here, Downes goes to press an opponent who isn’t in a dangerous area, which leaves space in behind. Two other opponents are lurking around and they immediately take advantage of this opportunity by occupying the vacated space.
Positional discipline is extremely important for deep-lying midfielders. While the desire to win back possession is important, it shouldn’t come at the cost of the team’s defensive structure. Fortunately enough, most of these errors seem to be eliminated as a young player gains experience. There is nothing that suggests it won’t be the same with Downes.
Although Downes doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to showcase his movement on the attacking end, he does show good things when given a chance. Here, in a counter-attacking situation, Downes takes a good route. He makes a run inside the wide defender, which forces him to come inside. This creates space for the winger to attack and he is freed from any defensive attention.
Downes’ intelligence is visible in such rare moments. These traits suggest the makings of a very useful and dependable player.
One of the best aspects of Downes’ play is his on-ball defensive skills. He is a good team defender, but he is a great individual defender.
His defensive positioning is quite impressive. This helps him make a lot of interceptions. His ball-winning skills allow him to consistently breakdown opposition attacks by intercepting passes in the middle of the pitch. His most impressive numbers come in the interceptions department. He averages 4.64 interceptions per 90. If you were to adjust these numbers according to the possession, his numbers would shoot to a mind-blowing 7.49 interceptions per 90.
Downes’ is a fine 1v1 defender as well. For the most part, he can maintain his ground and slow down the attacker. He doesn’t get beaten a lot in 1v1 situations and even when he does, he is quick enough to recover.
But he does tend to leave his body in an open stance here. Combine this with his narrow body frame, it gets a little easier for attackers to get the better of him. With his current physique, Downes should be looking to provide as less space behind him as possible when approaching these scenarios. Better body positioning would make it even more difficult for attackers to get around him.
Downes is also a very good tackler. He is naturally aggressive and repeatedly hunts the ball. His tackling technique is interesting. He doesn’t have long legs but is still able to make frequent contact with the ball. A high foul rate should be expected with such aggression. Downes averages 2 fouls per 90. This could be cut down by maintaining the right balance between aggression and patience. His technique could be polished a bit more as well. Being able to pick the right spots is a part of the learning curve.
Downes’ aerial ability is surprisingly good. His height is 1.73m (5’8”), but he has a remarkably high leap. This leaping ability helps him win aerial duels which you wouldn’t think he could win.
He attempts 3.94 aerial duels per 90 and wins 1.77 of them. Even though his win rate is only 44.9%, it’s good in the sense that he’s punching above his weight here.
Most of Downes development in this area will happen as he gains experience and develops physically. As his body grows, his strength will increase which will help him win these defensive duels at a higher rate. For now, he is showing signs of a player that isn’t afraid of the physicality of the game. These kind of players are a coach’s dream.
As this scout report shows, Flynn Downes is a very talented young player. He might not have the potential to play for top teams like Liverpool but certainly for other clubs in the Premier League. He has considerably improved from last season. Despite playing in a reasonably flawed team, he has stood out as a reliable player. His passing skills are well beyond what you’d expect from a player of his age. He has a good engine and he is also extremely mobile on the pitch. Admittedly, there are still some flaws in his game, like positioning or strength. But as he grows and gains experience, those flaws will most likely get tuned out. That will help him become a much more polished and refined player. The development curve isn’t always linear, but he is slowly and steadily climbing up the ladder. The future sure appears bright for him.