“He has got that touch of magic and touch of genius,” said Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers after James Maddison’s stunning strike in last week’s win over Brighton. “He is one of the biggest talents in the country and you saw that tonight.”
James Maddison has not been lavished with quite as much praise of late. There have been some spectacular highs, for sure. The delightful curled strike in the win at Manchester City and now his left-footer against Brighton, the latest reminder of his gifts.
But injury has curtailed his influence a little, with some minor knee trouble just last week. Maddison missed out on the England squad in November and the 90 minutes against Everton on Wednesday evening was only his third full Premier League game this season.
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For Rodgers, having Maddison back fit, firing and flowing will elevate his side. Not that they are struggling as it is. Leicester go into the weekend inside the top four and with the opportunity to leapfrog last week’s leaders Tottenham with a victory in London on Sunday.
Maddison could be the man to pick the lock.
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Perhaps you are familiar with the numbers by now but it is worth reminding that only Kevin De Bruyne has created more chances than the 24-year-old Englishman since he made his Premier League debut at Old Trafford in August 2018. It is close too, he is just nine behind.
Adjust for the quality of the chances created and Maddison still ranks fourth in that time – the company that he is keeping illustrative of his ability. De Bruyne remains top. He is followed by the Liverpool pairing of Mohamed Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Maddison is next, with Manchester City and England winger Raheem Sterling making up the top five creative players.
So why does it feel like the fuss surrounding Maddison has faded? Track his Leicester career so far and it is true that the creative high point came in 2019. Missing much of the second half of last season, coupled with the stop-start nature of the calendar over the past year, has robbed him of some momentum since.
Maddison provided seven assists in his first season but three in his second and just the one so far this season, but he has been a little unfortunate. Only Southampton full-back Ryan Bertrand has a greater disparity between assists and expected assists. Maddison has been creating more chances than the figure suggests but team-mates have been missing them.
Still, there has been a slight drop off and one wonders whether that stems from the formation changes that have seen Maddison deployed in the number 10 role, but also positioned deeper in midfielder or out on the left. He can be effective in any formation but it is perhaps the central creative role in a 4-2-3-1 that is the more obvious fit.
The switch to that shape worked for Maddison and Leicester in the early stages against Brighton last weekend, but not so much against Everton. Perhaps if there is an issue it is that Leicester can sometimes seem over-reliant on their playmaker finding the lone forward.
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Maddison to Vardy is Leicester’s most established supply line and it came close to delivering on the one occasion that the midfielder found some space against Everton, his no-look pass being cut out by the toe of Abdoulaye Doucoure as Vardy tumbled inside the penalty box. But do Maddison’s team-mates look to feed the main man with the same regularity?
Of the 1170 minutes that Leicester have played this season, Maddison has spent only 539 of them on the pitch with Vardy, but he has still found the striker on 21 occasions, more than anyone else. Adjust those stats per 90 minutes and it is by far the most.
Maddison’s presence helps Vardy.
Jose Mourinho understands that of course and with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Moussa Sissoko expected to patrol the spaces ahead of Tottenham’s defence, closing down Maddison will be a priority. Vardy will begin his runs when Maddison is on the ball, but the senses of every Spurs player will be heightened too when that happens.
Like Rodgers, they will be looking for a touch of Maddison magic.
Pitch to Post Preview: Ancelotti and Arteta’s first years assessed; Plus Gareth Bale and Dele Alli latest, and why Leeds could trouble Man Utd
This week on the Pitch to Post Preview Podcast, Peter Smith is joined by Sky Sports News reporter Alan Myers and Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith to analyse Carlo Ancelotti and Mikel Arteta’s work at Everton and Arsenal, ahead of their one year anniversaries. Who has done the better job?
We also hear from SSN reporter Paul Gilmour on whether Tottenham will bounce back from a frustrating week against Leicester – and the latest on Gareth Bale’s fitness and Dele Alli’s future.
Plus Sky Sports feature writer Nick Wright assesses Man Utd’s 3-2 win at Sheffield United and makes his Pitch for why Leeds could upset Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side at Old Trafford…
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