Liverpool's Stewart Downing has admitted that moving to the club has given him "a culture shock" and subjected him to levels of pressure greater than anything he had expected.
Downing took heed of a message from the Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish, that Carling Cup final starting places were at stake for the side who faced Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup last Sunday and, arguably, his performance in the 6-1 win went some way to atoning for a poor display in the recent 2-1 Premier League defeat at Manchester United. The 27-year-old winger, whose experience of Carling Cup finals has not been memorable, is likely to be edged out by Craig Bellamy for a starting place against Cardiff City on Sunday, but he said he hoped to play "some part in the final".
Downing said he had had "some good games, some indifferent ones" at Liverpool since his £20 million move from Aston Villa last summer.
"It has been a bit up and down this season," he said. "I have been on the bench sometimes, whereas at other clubs I have been used to playing every week, more or less. That has been hard to get used to. It has been a little bit of a culture shock, almost. I expected pressure but I didn't expect it to be as big as it has been. You are under the microscope every day; every game people are looking at you. But that is Liverpool and that is why you want to be here. You have got to blank everything out. You want to be at a club that is challenging every week and is pushing you on as a player."
After a bright start last summer, Downing has struggled to demonstrate that he is a game-changing player worthy of the fee Liverpool paid for him. Bellamy's contribution – he was surely the best Premier League signing of last summer – has served only to highlight the England player's struggles. It is why Downing's place in the starting line-up is not guaranteed.
"The easy thing would be to just spit the dummy out and say there is no point hanging around," Downing said. "All you can do is work hard and keep training well. Kenny has stressed from day one that if you don't train well, you won't be in the team. Kenny sees everything. He watches training every day and if you are not doing well or spit your dummy out, then you won't be picked. You have just got to give him a problem by training well and make sure that he picks you."
Having watched from the bench as Middlesbrough beat Bolton in the 2004 Carling Cup final, and played in Aston Villa's defeat by Manchester United two years ago, Downing has not enjoyed his two League Cup finals. Neither do Cardiff hold good memories. Downing's Boro were expected to beat them in an FA Cup quarter-final at the Riverside in 2008 but Peter Whittingham and Roger Johnson took City through.
"I know what they can do so we have to be prepared," Downing said.