Premier League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: James Maddison
Artwork by @chapulana

James Maddison was recently called up to the England Under-21 squad to compete in the 2019 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, which takes place this summer in Italy. The call-up was an obvious choice because of Maddison‘s huge steps towards his development this season. This tactical analysis will look at why his style of play is so well sought out, his strengths, and what he can bring to Leicester City and to the England National Team.

Style of play 

The number ten role has slowly been dying in the new era of football. The modern midfielder needs to be much more involved in all aspects while their team is in possession, rather than wait until their team is on the attack. Managers cannot afford to have a number ten player, especially while out of possession. Some number ten’s have struggles in this new era. Mesut Özil is not trusted by Unai Emery for Arsenal to put the defensive shift he needs to consistently play him. Philippe Coutinho has struggled at his new club, Barcelona as he is not able to play as a deep playmaker, like Andrés Iniesta, nor does he have the pace to consistently play as a winger.

Other number tens have evolved their games, and become more of a central midfielder. Kevin De Bruyne is the perfect example, having played as a number 10 early on, and not being able to get enough game time. He was forced to adapt his role, and while he is still a creative player going forward, he constantly tracks back and puts in a defensive shift while out of possession.

James Maddison has shown all the abilities to become a future world class player, creatively. He’s Leicester City’s biggest chance creator by constantly playmaking; looking for areas in which he can pass the ball that give his teammates the best chance to score.

His defensive duties have developed greatly from the beginning of the season, and while there is still improvement to be made, he works hard for the team, warranting him a spot in the starting XI.

Changes under Brendan Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers became the new manager of Leicester City in February after the club had sacked Claude Puel. Under Rodgers, James Maddison has evolved his role into more of a number eight. He is still Leicester City’s most creative player going forward, but having him play deeper has done three things. The first is Leicester City as a whole become much more solid defensively with the extra man in midfield. The second is that Maddison saves much more energy. Rather than constantly having to run back and forth from a defensive position to an offensive position. The third is that he has averaged 15 more touches a game playing deeper under Rodgers. This can only be good for Leicester City as the more Maddison has the ball, the more likely good chances for scoring are created.

Using tactical analysis, we compare two of Maddison’s heat maps from the season. The first is from a 3-1 loss against Tottenham and the second is from a 2-0 win against Bournemouth. The comparison clearly shows how much deeper and how much more involved Maddison is during the game.

Premier League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis Statistics: James Maddison Leicester City
Maddison’s heatmap against Tottenham Hotspurs [via Wyscout]
Premier League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis Statistics: James Maddison Leicester City
Maddison’s heatmap against Bournemouth [via Wyscout]

Positional awareness

In possession

Like most footballers, James Maddison thrives when he has space and time to look for his best option. Often he’ll create space for himself by laying off a pass to a teammate, and wait until the opposition follows the ball. He’ll then usually find himself in some space, and ask for the ball back. These quick one-twos catch the opposition off guard, and they leave holes for Maddison to exploit.

Another way Maddison will make space for himself is get really close to the player marking him, and then slightly angle his run. As soon as the ball is played, he’ll sprint away from the defender. This effectively creates a large gap between him and the opponent. This gives him time to pick out the right pass for his teammates.

Premier League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis Statistics: James Maddison Leicester City
Maddison gets really close to the defender while his teammate has the ball.
Premier League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis Statistics: James Maddison Leicester City
Just as his teammate receives the ball, Maddison starts to curve his run.
Premier League 2018/19 Tactical Analysis Statistics: James Maddison Leicester City
As soon as the ball is received, Maddison sprints away from the defender. This creates space both for himself and for his teammate to run into.

Out of possession

As we mentioned above, Rodgers has improved Maddison’s defensive display compared to the beginning of the season. He has averaged more interceptions and blocks in his own half in the last three months than in the first seven months of the season.

Rodgers has implemented a pressing style at Leicester City, which comes as no surprise. Like his Liverpool and Celtic sides, when his teams are out of possession, he demands them to press from all over the pitch in order to win the ball back as quickly as possible.

Maddison is still young, and since he is still adapting to a newer defensive role, he is often a bit clumsy, giving away unnecessary fouls. He is still young, and this will be something he learns to take out of his game. What is important is that he’s always willing to press.

Creativity

Maddison’s best attributes have always been his creativity. With an average pass accuracy of 85%, his seven assists this season accurately reflect his xA of 7.94, showing his efficiency. He has a smaller frame compared to some of the other players in the Premier League, but that allows him to move quickly, and dodge defenders, which is shown by him averaging 75% successful dribbles this season.

Future impact with England

During this past World Cup in Russia, England managed to make it to the semi-finals. One thing that England lacked at the tournament, that was especially evident in the semi-final match against Croatia, was a more creative midfielder. Gareth Southgate utilized a 3-5-2 during the World Cup. This system does not utilize wingers, instead, it expects the fullbacks to create the most chances for the forwards. This system works fantastic for a team that has most of the ball possession.

However, England were pinned back against Croatia, and the fullbacks were stuck defending. A player like Maddison in central midfield would have been perfect for England, as he would have been able to create many chances, allowing England’s forwards through on goal.

Since the World Cup, Southgate has changed the system to a 4-3-3. However, because of Rodgers, Maddison is now a much more versatile player and is comfortable playing in several positions. It is obvious that he’ll be a part of Southgate’s plans for years to come for the national team.

Final thoughts 

James Maddison has been gaining plaudits since the beginning of the season when he started showing promising signs for Leicester City. However, his vast improvement over the past couple of months really showcases how much of a player he can grow to be both for club and country.