Marcus Maddison has long been recognised as one of the most technically gifted players in League One. Now into his sixth season in the league, Maddison is desperate to test himself at a higher level. He has regularly been a subject of scout reports by sides in the Championship, but to date, no side has felt comfortable spending a 7 figure sum on a player whose consistency and commitment have at times been questioned. Despite his outstanding technical ability, in past years many have felt that Maddison has failed to live up to his potential.
This season a lot seems to have changed. Maddison has been playing with a consistency like never before and putting up quality performance after quality performance. Given his eye-catching capacity to do the unexpected, unquestionable technical ability and incredible attacking numbers, Maddison will surely have countless suitors in the second tier, if not higher, should he decide to run his contract down and leave on a free in the summer.
In this tactical analysis, we will give a detailed breakdown of Maddison’s season to date – looking at the aspects of his game that make him an exceptional player at League One level and how he fits into Peterborough’s tactics and consider whether a Championship side should swoop in for the attacker next June.
The Posh are the Football League’s leading scorers, having notched up an incredible 36 goals in just 15 matches at a rate of 2.4 goals per game. Maddison has been directly involved in 14 of those goals (39%), and his record of 8 goals and 6 assists places him top of the EFL goal involvement rankings.
Of Posh’s 15 matches this season, Maddison has featured for 1062 minutes meaning that incredibly he averages a goal or assist every 76 minutes.
When looking at the underlying statistics behind Maddison’s performances it is not hard to see how he has posted such impressive numbers. For every 90 minutes played Maddison averages 4.2 shots, 2.7 key passes, 3 successful crosses (including corners).
His shots from distance have been particularly remarkable, registering a total of 35 shots from outside the area scoring on 4 occasions (11.4% conversion rate). And while 7 of his 8 goals have come via his favoured left boot, he has also demonstrated his ability with his right foot courtesy of a 25-yard thunderbolt into the top corner on one occasion.
Tactical Involvement & Free Role
In previous seasons, Maddison was played almost exclusively as a winger. On the left wing, he would operate primarily as a creator, whipping in dangerous crosses from all angles for his teammates to finish. When deployed on the right, Maddison became more of a goal threat, still capable of hitting dangerous in-swinging crosses but also prone to cutting inside and unleashing long-range thunderbolts at goal.
This season Maddison has been deployed primarily as a number 10 at the tip of a midfield diamond behind League One’s joint top scorers Ivan Toney and Mo Eisa. The freedom he has been given in this role has been a key part of his success. In possession he is able to drift out to either flank or drop deep to link play, thus utilising his excellent vision and passing range.
Maddison has primarily used this license to drift out to the right flank, where right-back Ryan Mason and right-sided midfielder Josh Knight operate from a deeper position than their counterparts on the left, providing Maddison with more space to play in.
From the right flank, Maddison is particularly dangerous. When picking the ball up in the yellow area above his options on the ball are vast. He can hit a diagonal ball or slide in an opponent with a through pass, whip in deep crosses, drive down the line to stand up a cross with his right foot or cut inside to shoot.
Here we see Maddison drifting into that yellow zone on the right. Initially he appears to be showing for a pass down the line, however when the opposing player moves to block this off, he intelligently changes direction to cut inside.
After receiving the ball in space between 2 central MK Dons midfielders Maddison releases a rasping strike from more than 30 yards into the top corner of the net.
Maddison’s intelligent positioning between the lines and proficiency when shooting from range causes the opposition defence a real dilemma. Does the opposition defender close Maddison down to block the shot, thus opening up space in behind for a clever pass to release either Toney or Eisa? Or does the defender allow the shot to come in unopposed, knowing that Maddison has more than enough ability to fire the ball into the top corner? In this sense, it is a combination of Maddison’s intelligence and all-round technical ability which poses the greatest threat to opposition defenders.
The task of defending against him is made doubly difficult by the fact it is almost impossible to predict what action Maddison will take in any given scenario. So vast is his skillset that he can hurt sides in a number of different ways from the same position on the pitch. Maddison has the pace and trickery to dribble past you if you engage him 1 v 1, he has the vision to slide in teammates with through balls, and he has the technique to generate tremendous swerve and dip when hitting long shots, long passes or crosses. It is this variety which makes him so difficult to contain, as underlined again in the following examples.
Again we see Maddison pick up the ball having drifted to the right. On this occasion, the defender, aware that Maddison may try to dribble down the line or cut inside, stands off him and wary that he may be dribbled past if he gets too tight. This gives Maddison the time and space he needs to pick out a long pass.
His 50-yard pass to Toney is perfect, and Toney gets a header away at goal.
As well as drifting wide, Maddison’s role in the side has also allowed him to take up intelligent positions in pockets of space in advanced central areas:
In this image we see Maddison collecting the ball on the half-turn in the space between the MK Dons midfield and defensive line. He has been able to recognise a gap between the lines (red circle), and intelligently positioned himself centrally inside this space. As always Maddison is positive in possession, running with the ball at the defence before attempting a through ball to Toney. Indeed, Maddison’s link-up play with Ivan Toney has been central to Peterborough’s attacking threat this season.
Combination with Ivan Toney
Maddison and Toney appear to have a near-telepathic connection, with Toney regularly peeling away from his marker to the back post in the knowledge that Maddison has both the vision and passing range to pick him out. The Maddison assister to Toney goal-scorer combination has yielded a remarkable 5 goals this season – more than any other player-to-player combination in the top 5 leagues in England.
In this clip against Wimbledon, we see Maddison has drifted onto the left wing where he is confronted in a 1 v 1 with holding midfielder Sanders with no room to play a forward pass.
Maddison creates a yard of space before immediately looking up for a killer pass. He knows that as he has drifted left, Toney will counter this movement by looking to move off the right shoulder of his marker towards the far post.
His pass to Toney is inch-perfect, played in behind Wimbledon’s back four and releasing Toney to a 1 v 1 against the keeper.
Linking Play From Deep Through Creativity & Vision
Even when not scoring or assisting, Maddison plays an essential role in his side’s build-up play as he is willing to drop deep and link play between the defence and attack. A particular feature of Maddison’s play is his awareness and desire to receive the ball on the half-turn. His head movement is excellent as he constantly scans the area around him for passing options, while his body position and adventurous nature allow him to quickly play forwards after receiving the ball. When dropping deep Maddison favours a long and aggressive passing style, looking to release his forwards in behind the defence rather than progressing the ball through the lines.
Here Maddison has dropped deep to receive a pass off his centre-back from a defensive free-kick. Maddison is already scanning the area ahead of him looking for options to quickly launch an attack.
Maddison then hits a stunning long pass to Toney, releasing the forward behind the defensive line and resulting in an attacking free-kick for his side. This is Maddison’s trademark from deep, as he typically looks for that one pass which can turn safe possession into a dangerous attack.
Another key feature of Peterborough’s success this season has been their ability to break at pace on the counter-attack. Peterborough have scored 4 goals on the counter this season utilising the pace of Maddison, Toney and Eisa. As well as the pace of the front three, a key component of Peterborough’s success on the counter has been the creativity, vision and quick thinking of Maddison.
With Lincoln pushed up for a corner, Maddison drops deep recognising the opportunity to break quickly. As is common he positions himself on the half-turn to receive the ball, allowing him to quickly drive forward with the ball.
Maddison dribbles past the nearest defender, and while running with the ball has the awareness to lift his head up to look for a forward pass and spots Dembele making a forward run ahead of him. Maddison’s ability to pick out a pass while dribbling at speed and under pressure sets him apart from many other League One players.
Maddison threads a perfectly weighted and directed through ball in between three Lincoln players and into the path of his onrushing teammate. It was a pass which hardly looked possible, requiring expert vision and execution to release Dembele in behind the Lincoln defence.
In possession, there are few players in world football, let alone League One, similar to Maddison. He plays the game like virtually no other, with his sole focus being either scoring or creating chances for others with a brazen disregard for possession or percentage plays. Darren Ferguson, to his enormous credit, gives him the freedom to do this, never reining him in even when the approach appears to be failing, in the knowledge that it takes just one perfectly executed Maddison shot, cross or pass to create a goal.
Out of Possession
In previous seasons when deployed as a wide midfielder, Maddison’s contribution to the side out of possession was frequently questioned. At times he seemed to lack the willingness to track back and support his full-back, often leaving the full-back isolated or overloaded, while his positional awareness when defending wide areas was also called into question. This was a key reason behind his spell on the sidelines under Steve Evans at the start of last season, as Evans only wanted to field players he could trust to work hard off the ball regardless of their impact on it.
This season Maddison’s role out of possession has changed, often acting as the central player in an initial three-man line of defence in between Toney and Eisa, operating either in a mid-to-high block or high press.
Here we see Maddison as part of that three-man mid-block, with Maddison effectively shielding the pass into the MK Dons pivot. Maddison has good lateral distances to both Toney (left) and Eisa (right) making the forward pass difficult. On this occasion, MK Dons try to force the ball forward between Maddison and Eisa, with Eisa able to intercept the pass and launch a fast attack. Winning possession in the opposition half in scenarios like this and then breaking quickly has been a key source of chances for Peterborough this season.
Maddison’s defensive positioning and understanding off-the-ball has greatly improved. This was best demonstrated in his performance against Rochdale, where he was asked to fulfil a slightly deeper role off the ball, primarily shielding Rochdale’s creative midfield anchor Aaron Morely.
In the example, we see Maddison tight to Morely preventing the pass into midfield. He then shows excellent anticipation to notice that the player in possession is attempting a switch of play. He sprints across, intercepting the pass before driving forwards and releasing a shot on target.
While Maddison’s defensive positioning and anticipation have been much improved this season – averaging 3.35 recoveries and 1.34 interceptions per 90 minutes, there are still glaring weaknesses in his defensive game. Maddison is both a poor tackler and weak in defensive duels: he has more fouls to his name this season than he does tackles, his ground duel success rate of 46.9% is significantly inflated by attacking duels rather than defensive ones, and he contests an aerial duel less than once every 5 matches. When attempting tackles, opposition players find it easy to ride challenges from him, while in ground duels he has frequently brushed aside or guilty of making half-hearted efforts to win the ball.
To conclude this analysis, despite his undoubted ability, Maddison is not a natural fit for many Championship sides. Both Maddison and any prospective buyers would be wise to consider any potential move with caution.
For a start, this season is quickly proving that his best position is as a number 10 with license to roam across the pitch in order to influence play. Not every side can accommodate such a player into their line-up. Maddison can alternatively be deployed on the wings, but when playing wide Maddison is prone to lapses of concentration when he should be tracking back.
Furthermore, sides that prize possession of the ball may struggle to find a place for Maddison. Peterborough, despite playing the ball out from defence, average just 49.7% possession this season. This is as a result of using Maddison as a focal point for the majority of attacks. While his bold and adventurous passing style can help unlock defences, it also means he regularly concedes possession for his side. This is borne out in his stats as on average, only 45.7% of his total actions are successful while every 90 minutes he averages just 12.8 successful passes at a success rate of 51.4%, 2.2 accurate long passes at a success rate of 35.9%, and 12.8 losses of possession.
The low success rate of actions means that sides have to be willing to regularly concede possession in order to benefit from his moments of magic. This is something Posh boss Darren Ferguson is more than willing to do given the risk/reward paradigm that Maddison operates within. However, it can be frustrating when Maddison has games where his attempts at the extraordinary fail to come off. Maddison has long been Peterborough’s crown jewel and the current side is built around the attacking talents of Maddison, Eisa and Toney. It remains to be seen whether Maddison would be as successful in a side not built to promote his strengths and mask his weaknesses. The spell at the start of last season under the uncompromising Steve Evans was a perfect example of this.
Should Maddison help fire the Posh to promotion this season, his best course of action may well be to stay with the side where he has teammates and a manager who are more than willing to build a team to showcase his talents. One thing is for sure: Chairman Darragh McAnthony is unlikely to entertain offers for a player so important to Peterborough’s promotion challenge in January, meaning that Maddison will likely be with the Posh at least until next summer.
Should Peterborough fail to earn promotion this season then it is almost certain Maddison will move on to pastures new. If this is the case, he should be careful to ensure he selects a side and manager that are willing to accommodate his skillset and playing style.
Whatever the future holds for Posh, we know that it holds a big decision this summer for Marcus Maddison, one which he must get right to ensure that he continues to make the most of his potential.
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