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James Maddison: Why the Leicester City star would be a valuable addition to England’s World Cup squad – scout report

Born and raised in Coventry, James Maddison joined the Coventry City youth team and progressed into the first-team squad. After immediately impressing for The Sky Blues and earning valuable experience in the EFL, Norwich City signed the attacking midfielder before sending him out on loan, at first back to Coventry and then to Scotland with Aberdeen.

The three-month spell in Scotland saw Maddison provide seven assists and two goals for The Dons, resulting in a return to The Canaries. The following season, Maddison proved to be one of the best players in the Championship, with 22 goal involvements in 44 appearances as he was named Norwich City’s player of the season. These performances earned a £20m transfer to Premier League side Leicester City in the summer of 2018.

Maddison has been central to one of the most successful periods in Leicester City’s history. Domestically, The Foxes lifted their first ever FA Cup alongside achieving back-to-back fifth-place finishes in the Premier League, just falling short of UEFA Champions League qualification. On the continent, Leicester endured two underwhelming UEFA Europa League campaigns before a heart-breaking UEFA Europa Conference League semi-final loss against eventual winners AS Roma.

Last season was Maddison’s best for attacking output, registering 18 goals and 12 assists in all competitions. This season has started horrifically for Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City, rooted at the bottom of the Premier League with just one point from their opening seven fixtures. However, Maddison has continued to perform well. The 25-year-old has three goals and an assist in the Premier League, leading to outrage when Gareth Southgate left him out of the England squad once again.

This tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, will look at the qualities that James Maddison could provide in England’s squad ahead of the World Cup and turn around Leicester’s dismal start to the season.

Player profile

James Maddison (175cm/5’9”, 73kg/160lbs) is a right-footed attacking midfielder capable of producing moments of individual brilliance. A dead-ball specialist, Maddison has registered a combined eleven goals and assists in his last ten Premier League appearances. Despite Leicester City’s dreadful opening months of the season, the 25-year-old attacking midfielder has performed relatively well.

His role under Brendan Rodgers has been ever-changing this season. As the under-pressure manager has lined up in variations of a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3, alongside different three-at-the-back systems, Maddison has been shoehorned away from the typical #10 positions. The figure below displays his heatmap so far this season.


Naturally, Maddison likes to occupy the half-spaces and has a particular preference for the right side. The Englishman has recently been deployed as the right midfielder for the Foxes, rarely receiving by the touchline as the width holder but tending to move infield with the right-back advancing. Maddison has also operated as a second striker alongside Jamie Vardy as the front two in Leicester’s three-at-the-back. In the 2-1 home loss against Southampton, the former Norwich City midfielder was deployed in a deeper role as an ‘8’ in the 4-3-3. Maddison put Leicester in front with a superb free-kick struck with pace and precision to wrap around the wall and beat Saints goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu.

With Leicester’s recent poor form, Maddison has frequently dropped to receive possession off the centre-backs when they are losing. By receiving deeper, he can attempt his eye of the needle passes to progress possession into the final third. However, Maddison is removing himself from the most threatening areas around goal, despite being Leicester’s key creator and goal-scoring threat. Overall, his influence from deep may help Leicester’s ball progression but it hinders the likelihood of penetration.


The image above is an example of Maddison drifting to the right half-space from his right midfield role. The Englishman has dropped away from Tottenham’s defensive line, creating a dilemma for new signing Clément Lenglet and wing-back Ryan Sessegnon. The defenders decide to remain in the backline, rather than following Maddison, allowing him to receive behind Richarlison and away from Rodrigo Bentancur. As a result, Maddison can turn and shift the ball out of his feet before firing a pass into striker Patson Daka.

Despite his preference to move right suiting a right-wing role and his technical security helping to provide overloads in the build-up phase, Maddison’s best role is an attacking midfielder. For Gareth Southgate’s England, the inclusion of Maddison to the starting eleven would likely reduce out-of-possession solidity compared to position rival Mason Mount. Mount is defensively superior, something Southgate values highly despite the attacking role, and can frustrate the opposition’s pivot and disrupt their build-up. Mount’s more selfless off-the-ball work suits various structures, whereas Maddison is more ball-dominant.

The imperfect tactical fit is not a valid excuse for Maddison’s continuous exclusion from the Three Lions’ squads. However, for this international break, the lack of time before the World Cup to introduce change is potentially Southgate’s reason and could provide an explanation for the treatment of AC Milan centre-back Fikayo Tomori. Nevertheless, Maddison’s ability to produce an opportunity from nothing and unlock defences would be extremely useful for England in the upcoming World Cup, especially when considering the recent toothless goalscoring form of Southgate’s side.

Individual brilliance for chance creation

With the typically less cohesive defensive structures in international football, James Maddison’s ability to find space in transitions before producing individual brilliance could have a game-winning impact. In Europe, only Spain and Germany engage with a consistent high-press, with most other teams generally allowing more time and space in possession. The extreme and unprecedented circumstances the mid-season World Cup in Qatar presents could provide some intriguing considerations regarding pressing. However, Maddison’s capacity to find space in an attacking midfield role would be convenient against all out-of-possession tactics.

In the image below, Leicester City had drawn the Arsenal press into the defensive third before goalkeeper Danny Ward played a long ball to Maddison. Ward bypassed the Arsenal press and virtually created a transitional moment from Leicester’s build-up. Operating as the 10 behind Patson Daka and Kelechi Iheanacho, Maddison was given the freedom to drift away from his role at the top of the Foxes midfield diamond. The Englishman controlled Ward’s punt in the right channel before fluidly creating separation from left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko. From there, Maddison lofted a perfectly-weighted pass over centre-back Gabriel Magalhães into Iheanacho’s stride, however, the striker failed to connect cleanly.


Maddison’s aforementioned deeper role and frequent dropping off under Brendan Rodgers this season has seen a reduction in his final third impact. His tendency to receive deeper is naturally increasing his overall involvement though, with the Englishman’s 42.63 passes per 90 ranking 5th out of the 31 attacking midfielders to play over 300 Premier League minutes this season. This is an increase on last season’s 31.41 passes per 90, which ranked 35th out of 42 attacking midfielders to play over 600 Premier League minutes.

His 7.33 passes into the final third per 90 ranks 4th and his 7.03 progressive passes per 90 are both significant increases from last season’s tally. Comparatively, Maddison only made 4.38 passes into the final third per 90 and 5.37 progressive passes per 90 last season. The Leicester star has also increased his long passes, with 3.06 per 90 and an accuracy of 65% both ranking 8th out of the 31 attacking midfielders.


By getting more involved in deeper play to progress possession, Maddison is reducing Leicester’s attacking threat. Despite completing the 5th most passes into the final third per 90, Rodgers’ side rank 19th for touches in the penalty area per 90 with 12.54. With Maddison’s 2.14 passes into the penalty box per 90 decreasing from last season, this has impacted the Foxes’ ability to penetrate.

The Foxes also rank 17th for crosses per 90, which is understandable due to their lack of aerial threat upfront but could still be used to provide another option to supply penalty box touches. They also rank 15th for through passes, despite possessing pacey attackers such as Jamie Vardy, Patson Daka, and Harvey Barnes that Maddison could find in behind.


In these two images, the Englishman is free to drift in the final third to the right half-space and overload the opposition’s full-back. Upon reception, Maddison draws out the nearest opponent and shifts the ball to fake a left-foot shot from the edge of the box. The defender overcommits, lunging to block the potential shot, allowing Maddison to cut back onto his stronger right foot and dig out a cross for Wesley Fofana to convert.


Maddison can also display his quality with ball manipulation as we can see above. The Leicester man has 6.42 offensive duels per 90 but his duel success rate of 59.52% ranks top out of the 31 attacking midfielders. His 2.75 dribbles per 90 are fewer than Arsenal’s Martin Ødegaard but more than Bruno Fernandes and Kevin De Bruyne. Maddison is comfortable receiving on the half-turn and can attract opponents whilst offering ball retention and progression in tight spaces.


In the image above, Maddison is willing to receive off defender Daniel Amartey in the centre of an Arsenal diamond. With Ødegaard closing over Maddison’s left shoulder, the Englishman scans and takes a first touch into the Arsenal half to evade Ødegaard. As holding midfielder Thomas Partey begins to shift across, Maddison plays an outside of the foot trivela pass behind Ben White for marauding full-back James Justin to receive. Maddison frequently attempts this type of pass, avoiding usage of his left foot.


Ending the 2021/22 season as Leicester City’s top goalscorer, James Maddison notched 18 goals in all competitions alongside a further 12 assists. In the Premier League, Maddison found the back of the net 12 times from an xG of 6.18. His excellent ball-striking aids the Englishman’s capacity to outperform his xG. Maddison challenges goalkeepers from distance and is menacing when standing over a free kick. Similar to his chance creation, Maddison’s individual brilliance can get him on the scoresheet.


An example of this is his goal at Tottenham Hotspur. Right-back Timothy Castagne has come out on top in the aerial duel with Spurs defender Ryan Sessegnon from Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s switch of play. Managing to create a yard of space, the Belgian bounces a cross into Maddison, the only Leicester player in the box. Maddison is able to connect well with the testing delivery as his half-volley loops beyond goalkeeper Hugo Lloris into the side netting.


The figures above display Maddison’s shot map from the last two seasons. It’s clear that Maddison is confident in his ability to trouble goalkeepers with longshots, but last season, he also got inside the box often to convert chances. This balanced out his xG per shot to a similar total to other high-risk but outstanding ball-striking attacking midfielders such as Bruno Fernandes, Kevin De Bruyne, Roma captain Lorenzo Pellegrini and Atalanta’s Ruslan Malinovskyi.

However, his xG per shot is naturally lower than attacking midfielders who frequently get into goal-scoring positions in the opposition box. German wonderkids Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz have totals similar to strikers, with Chelsea’s Mason Mount also taking higher xG shots than Maddison. Maddison’s rare forays into the opposition box this season have resulted in his xG per shot dropping to 0.06. He still ranks 5th for shots per 90 out of the 31 attacking midfielders to have played over 300 Premier League minutes with 2.9 and 36.84% on target. With Leicester’s 6.94 xG so far this season ranking 18th in the Premier League, Brendan Rodgers needs to get the Englishman more involved in the final third.


The image above shows Maddison arriving into the box to score a crucial goal at PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Europa Conference League last season. Initially looking to provide a passing option for right-back Ricardo Pereira, Maddison enters the box after some exceptional work from Ayoze Pérez. The Spaniard pulls the ball back to Maddison, whose sidefoot finish incredibly avoids Mario Götze’s slide tackle and manages to find the only gap between defender Jordan Teze and goalkeeper Yvon Mvogo.


Despite Leicester City’s dire form seeing them languishing at the bottom of the Premier League with just one point, attacking midfielder James Maddison is staking a claim for a spot in the England squad at the World Cup this winter.

Registering three goals and an assist in six Premier League starts, Maddison has continued his impressive displays from last season. His form in recent years has certainly warranted more than three call-ups, with a substitute appearance against Montenegro in 2019 being his only cap. As Gareth Southgate selected 27 players for the recent UEFA Nations League fixtures, there was outrage with Maddison failing to be called up once again.

However, the 25-year-old realises that performing for Leicester in their current situation is the main priority. In a post-game interview from their 6-2 loss at Tottenham Hotspur, Maddison said “The England stuff isn’t at the forefront of my mind when we’re bottom of the Premier League”.

Under Brendan Rodgers, the Foxes have experienced one of the most successful spells in their history. Competing in Europe off the back of overperformances in the Premier League and an FA Cup victory, his side have started to stumble this season. One point in seven games and an inability to enter the opposition box has led to formation and role changes for Maddison. The Englishman is looking to receive the ball in deeper areas, acting as a progressor rather than remaining in the final third. With his excellent ball-striking and willingness to attempt the spectacular to provide goals and assists, Maddison’s best work is in advanced areas.

These qualities could be valuable for England at the World Cup. With the typically less cohesive nature of international football and the importance of transitions in knockout formats, Maddison’s individual brilliance and his transitional threat could provide the cutting edge required. Although Southgate prefers Mason Mount’s tactical flexibility and defensive work to maintain team solidity, including Maddison in the squad as an option off the bench seems like a no-brainer. With FIFA increasing the World Cup squad size from 23 to 26, having a player of Maddison’s quality to produce brilliance in transition, against settled defences and from set-pieces would be a welcomed addition, although Southgate seems to disagree.

In this tactical analysis, we have looked at James Maddison’s game-winning qualities that could provide a different option for England at the World Cup whilst turning around Leicester City’s awful start to the season.