Since February 2019, Brendan Rodgers’ arrival at Leicester City has brought huge improvements at the club, who are now positioned in the top three in the Premier League this season, above the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United. A lot of the Foxes’ performance can be attributed to the 23-year-old James Maddison, an advanced midfielder with a vast range of attributes that allows him to be dangerous from any position in the rival’s half.
Five assists and six goals make him second, only below Kevin De Bruyne, for goal involvements by midfielders in the Premier League. This playmaker is in the top rank of players in Europe’s top five leagues for chances created for the second consecutive year.
In this scout report, we are going to do a tactical analysis of the main attacking characteristics of this two-footed advanced midfielder who is lighting up the Premier League. In this analysis we will also see how this playmaker has become essential for the possession-based tactics used by Rodgers, playing with freedom as he can create chances from a variety of positions.
Positioning and roles
Rodgers has utilized Maddison mainly as the left advanced midfielder in his most preferred 4-1-4-1 formation. In possession, he would be the advanced midfielder freely moving between the central defender and the forward lines, mostly positioned in the left half-space from where he creates the most dangerous attacks. As we see in the heat map he will be positioned in the left, albeit he has the freedom to collect the ball at any part of the opposition structure.
The Foxes under Rodgers’ tactics play a possession-based build-up from their defensive third in which Maddison does not take part. His role is to stretch the lines staying high and start to look for gaps from where to receive the ball from the centre-backs in an advanced area between midfield and defensive opponent lines. In the next picture, we can see him positioned in the left half-space, asking the question to the opponent left-back whether to stay narrow with him or to follow the wide player.
Once the ball is progressed to the middle third, it is where his freedom takes place and he will drop under the opponent’s midfield line to collect the ball and to create chances. This is where he becomes essential in the Foxes’ tactics as most of the balls are played to him and from there the combination play starts. In the next picture, we can see him dropping under the Aston Villa midfield line to collect the ball looking forward to organizing the attack.
From this positioning in front of the opponent’s 2nd line of the press, we can start seeing his variety of plays. The only way you would determine which is his strong foot is from his set-pieces as he can easily use both feet to play the ball. In the next picture, we can see against Chelsea how he collects the ball and being pressure by N’Golo Kanté he used his left foot to connect with James Vardy in an advanced area, beating the midfield line. The Foxes ended up scoring after Vardy combined with Harvey Barnes on this great combination play.
A variety to this vertical penetration, breaking lines by through balls, is his ability to play over with his strongest feet. He can turn and use his right foot to switch the angle of play relying on a great long-distance passing accuracy. In the next sequence of pictures, we can see how he turns after collecting the ball in front of Newcastle midfield line and uses his strong feet to switch the ball over to the other flank.
In this second picture, we can see that he managed to switch the ball into the box assisting Ayoze Pérez with a clinical long pass from the left middle half-space. Being able to create a scoring chance from the middle third is what makes his game even more valuable, without even having to dribble, he could be dangerous despite far away from the attacking third.
1v1’s with lots of feints
His agility and speed to outplay rivals on attacking duels has enabled him to outperform the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City’s attacking midfielders. If we compare his attacking duels with the ones of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and De Bruyne we can see the difference, all performing between the range of 8.5 and 8.7 duels per match, and Maddison being superior to both with a success rate of 53.72%, De Bruyne having a 10% lower success rate of 43.44%, and Chamberlain having even less success with only a success rate of 39.29%. Variety is also a characteristic of his offensive duels; he can use a different range of skills to dribble and outplay opponents supported with his acceleration once the rival has been deceived. He uses his body shape to deceive rivals, pretending to go one way and fast turning to the other once the rival has committed his body. In the next picture, we can see how he deceived Jorginho using a “scissors” skill to pretend to go to the right. Chelsea’s central midfielder is already committed to Maddison’s right move but quickly turned to the left receiving the foul.
In the next picture, we can see another feint used frequently by Maddison, pretending to receive in front of the rival and quickly stepping back deceiving the defender and receiving the ball behind him. We see this feint made against Aston Villa midfielder, we can see him already going backwards to receive the ball and bypass the defender who was positioned to tackle Maddison if the ball was received in front.
Not only he uses his body to deceive the defenders and outplay them but being two-footed allows him to feint the shooting with one foot and use the other with a much clear shot once the rival has been outplayed. In the next picture, we see how the defender is already on the floor as he pretended to shoot with the right foot to turn inside having a much better angle to shoot.
In the next sequence, we can see a combination of both preferred feints used by Maddison with the added value of being accomplished inside the box. Firstly he fooled Newcastle defender by stepping backwards, making the defender commit to the front reception already stretching the foot and having lost his defensive position inside the box.
Secondly, when he saw Newcastle midfielder closing from inside, he pretends to shoot with the right foot committing the rival to attempt to close the shoot, but turning to his left foot and outplaying the rival. In this play, we saw how he can easily get rid of rivals just using the body and shooting feints increasing his xG in the shot.
Striking technique to score and assist
Before getting into his striking technique we have to highlight his quick decision-making which allows him to play in a high tempo. He can quickly perceive and read situations, giving him extra time to exploit his technique when striking the ball. In the next sequence, we can see how he first scans to the side while running with the ball; Nampalys Mendy is running from the back still not coming into the scene but already perceived by Maddison.
Once facing the Aston Villa defender, he has already read the situation, knowing where his teammates are and which are the possible options to be taken. As we see in the next picture, he does not need to look anymore and he has already decided to turn inside to create space on the blind-side.
Knowing that his teammate is overlapping him he laid off the ball to the blind-side of the defender easily outplaying him. In this sequence, we have seen how with a first scan of the situation he perceived the environment and took a fast decision to outplay the defender with a technical lay-off pass before even being pressured by the rival.
In the next picture, we can see Maddison’s fast decision making to play forward. Before receiving the ball, he has already scanned the situation and perceived where his team-mate is running to. He only needs a first touch to play forward beating the pressure and connecting into space with Perez behind the defensive line.
What makes him a different advanced midfielder is his wide range of striking-techniques in his repertoire. When positioned in front of the goal he could be as dangerous with the right foot as with the left one. In the next picture, we can see a goal scored against Newcastle with his left foot from outside the box.
The same outcome but with his strong foot can be seen in the next picture, time and space are given for him to cross into the right side to have a better shooting angle. Even being pressured he managed to get a long-distance shot to the low right post scoring against Tottenham.
To add to his striking repertoire he can use different foot sides to score when shooting from outside of the box. In the next picture, we can see a goal he scored with the outside of his strong right foot. Even do his shoot was being blocked by the two central defenders he managed to curved the ball using the outside of the right foot and finding the side of the net.
The same variety when striking from outside the box can be seen when assisting, using both feet and different sides of the right foot to make a curved pass. In the next picture, we can see one of his assists this year in the Premier League crossing the ball with his left foot from the left flank against Aston Villa.
His outside right-foot technique is good and he feels so comfortable using it that we can see him using it at any part of the filed. In the next picture, we can see an assist he did against Sheffield United, collecting the ball on the right flank and using the outside of his right foot to perfectly assist Pérez.
His delightful striking capabilities takes even more relevance on the Foxes’ set-pieces; he scored one against Southampton and creates danger on most corner kicks. In the next picture, we can see his second assisted goal in the game against Aston Villa from a left corner kick. He usually aims at the second post from the left side and the first one from the opposite due to his curved centres. He curved the ball to the second post where he found Jonny Evans alone to meet the ball.
We have gone through different aspects of this outstanding advanced midfielder, who at just 23 years of age is delighting the Premier League. A whole article can be written either on his 1 v 1 duels or his striking capabilities that make him an unpredictable player capable of creating chances from nowhere.
His wide variety of attacking capabilities and his fast decision-making is what allows him to create scoring chances from any part of the pitch. When positioned in front of the opposition midfield line he can assist from long distances or create danger with his through balls. If positioned between the lines, he creates even more problems for rivals, asking defenders the question of marking him closely with the risk of being outplayed easily or giving space and suffering from his long-distance shots.
He has already debuted for the England national team and we expect this to become common as he keeps developing in the Premier League. We might see the interest of many big teams once the season is over.