Born and bred in Coventry, James Maddison broke through into the Sky Blues first team during the 2014-15 League One season making 12 appearances. He made his first league start against Oldham Athletic, scoring his first league goal with a trademark free-kick in the first-half, in what would prove to be a losing cause as Coventry eventually lost the game 4–1.
The technical quality and elite decision-making was evident in spades even at this tender age and within months Maddison would sign his first professional contract, lasting three and a half years. Despite the early promise, keeping up with the physical demands of the men's game was to prove too much for the youngster.... his frail body - there was literally nothing of him - soon gave way around the Christmas fixtures and he would pick up a back injury which would keep him out for the rest of the season.
The following season, Maddison started off where he had left off the previous season - flirting in and around the first team, but not considered a key cog of the side. Nevertheless when he did feature, he demonstrated tremendous quality in terms of his touch - quite often he would receive long passes and with a little one touch cushioned lay off find an on-rushing team mate and progress a counter attack. His ability to effortlessly pick up pockets of space was also worthy of note.
Unsurprisingly, the young Maddison's weight of pass was excellent and the only flaw that was present in his game was a lack of express pace and the aforementioned general lack of physicality, which meant he could not really drive a game forward with any real verve. Nevertheless he showed enough potential to catch the attention of promotion chasing Championship side Norwich City and they would acquire his services during the January transfer window - loaning him back to Coventry for the remainder of the season (where he would end up with 3 goals and 2 assists).
Shortly after making his long awaited arrival at Norwich, Maddison was shipped off to Aberdeen on loan to feature in the Scottish Premiership. Whilst the thought behind the move was to toughen up the yougster, he would soon earn a burgeoning reputation for adding flair, creativity and excitement to a dour Dons side. He scored 2 goals and bagged 5 assists in 14 appearances, with his last-minute free kick winner against Rangers in September 2016 cementing him as a cult figure at the Dons. Tactically, Maddison was deployed predominantly in the central areas and whenever he had the chance he tended to drift into those half spaces on the left side and from there burst into the opposition half.
The boy had become a man. After his exploits in Scotland the season prior, Norwich decided to give young Maddison a full season of football and he repaid their faith. With 14 goals and 8 assists in 44 games he was voted as Norwich's player of the season and received a nomination for EFL Championship Young Player of the Season award, narrowly losing out to Ryan Sessegnon. His responsibilities were similar to what was expected of him at Aberdeen but he had more attacking freedom under then Norwich coach Daniel Farke. Norwich played a scintillating brand of football which was known as Farke ball and Maddison was at the centre of that system.
In the 2017/18 season, Leicester were still playing in a 4-4-1-1 system and whilst there was no longer Kante in the midfield, Mahrez and Vardy were everpresents and ensured that their title winning approach to games was the same as it had been under Ranieri. However what Leicester needed was a revolution and after some initial sparks of brilliance under Claude Puel, they certainly got it with the arrival of Brendan Rodgers midway through the season.The sale of Mahrez also further necessitated the need for change in terms of playing strategy.
Under the guidance of these two managers, Leicester modernised their playing style and sought to be more proactive with the ball. Shifting away from counter-attack to taking more care with the ball and controlling games. Key to this strategy was the acquisition of James Maddison who after a great season under Farke, was signed for £20m on a 5 year contract.
The team would now play with three players in midfield, in a 4-2-3-1 and whilst Rodger's has showed versatility in terms of formation selection (using 4-1-4-1, to playing 3 at the back and everything in between...) the base principle has been one of high ball retention and quality movement on and off the ball, fast interchanging of positions and never standing still after you have made your pass. It has suited Maddison down to the ground - a high IQ footballer, playing in a high IQ system. Time now for a more in-depth technical and tactical breakdown of Maddison's game.
Maddison is undeniably an excellent passer of the ball. He is not particularly renowned for those long passes which Thiago, Kimmich or Kroos play but his game revolves around picking up positions where he can certainly provide defence splitting passes in the final third. He also has an accuracy of about 86% while playing a medium passes (a pass which is longer than 15m but shorter than 30m - usually between the lines of midfield and defence), which suggests he is a player who can constructively progress the play reliably without needing to go the 'Hollywood' route.
In terms of technique, Maddison tends to favour using the outside of his right foot to make those long passes into the path of Vardy or Barnes. He can also provide those dangerous crosses into the box when he is playing on the left side or when he is on corner duties. His short passing accuracy is less than 40%, but it is because he usually operates in the final third of opposition and also because he possesses a 'key pass per game' average of 2.6 (higher than Mount or Grealish) thus indicating he likes to take greater risks with his passes and not play it safe.
When it comes to holding onto ball in opposition area or trying to break through opposition's with minimum fuss, James Maddison is that man for Leicester City. Because of this he is pushed a lot or gets fouled, but he is strong enough to endure such physicality from his opposition. He usually comes on top while going 1v1 against defenders and is able to find his way through a cramped area more often than not. With his feints and ability to constantly tease defenders by shifting his weight, he can lead them up the garden path albeit he is not on par with a Jack Grealish in this respect.
If penetrating into the opposing area is not possible then Maddison can take the direct route because of his long shots traits. Since very early into his career, he could unleash a thunderbolt into top or bottom corner from 22-25 meters. He usually cuts inside from the left flank and shapes his body to bend or curl the ball into those corners from a very long range. Because of his great shooting abilities Maddison has the responsibility over the dead ball. He takes most of the short free kicks for Leicester and has converted them into goals or at the very least caused some problems for all kinds of keepers.
For a midfielder it is important to win back possession in the middle of the park and support his attackers to effectively press and win ball as high as possible. Whilst to the eye, Maddison can be accused of a lack of physical dynamism in the same mould of a Mason Mount... his underlying defensive stats have been pretty impressive and during the 2019/20 season, before injury struck... Maddison was averaging more than 3 defensive contributions a game which is excellent. Unfortunately since his injury, this commitment to the cause has taken a knock and he now relies on his teammates Ndidi and Tielemans to provide cover for him while trying to win the ball. He can play the support role while pressing but cannot be the main hero when it comes to chasing down and win back the ball.
Maddison's main role is to be the provider for Barnes or Vardy. He is the sort of no.10 who has freedom to roam anywhere on the pitch and provide assistance to his attackers. Brendan Rodgers has generally deployed him in that centre attacking midfielder spot in 4-2-3-1 formation with Ndidi and Tielemans providing cover for him just behind Maddison. He prefers to stay in the centre part of the pitch where he can provide those through balls for Vardy during counter attacks.
During the build up phase his role is to move the ball forward if possible or try and distribute it to one of the central midfielders who have moved forward or to the full back who is pushing forward. After moving the ball forward, Maddison then looks to move into a different area to the pitch where space is available for him and he can be available to receive the ball if necessary. As he is not good with aerial duels he stays near the penalty area to pounce on any half cleared ball and volley it into back of the net (rather than maraud into the box like a young Scholes).
Leicester are not the sort of team who can go blow to blow with big teams like Liverpool or Manchester City who technically have more superiority than them. In such instances Brendan Rodgers has shed his tactical naivete and adopted a resillient 4-5-1 which favours defence. In this set up he often deploys Maddison on the left side of the midfield 5. In this system his role remains vital because of his ability to quickly release the ball forward.
The only downside to this system is Maddison becomes predictable when he plays on the left side because of his weak foot and lack of elite ball carrying ability. Most of the defenders know that his left foot is the weakest one and he rarely uses it so defenders know that he will shift his weight to get the ball on his right foot. There are only three things which he can do in that position, either cut inside to get a shooting opportunity or distribute it to other flank as well as wait for the left back to make an overlapping run.
Maddison is at his best when he is in the central areas and the team is playing attacking football. In a 4-3-1-2 system he can play behind the two strikers as a number 10. He can get that defensive cover and that extra man in the midfield can really help him while pressing and winning the ball. With 2 runners up top on either side he can pick any one of them. For the left sided striker he can use his inside of the right foot if he gets that sort of time on the ball. If a defender is closing him on then he can use outside of his right foot. He can also move into that left side and interchange if one of the forward moves into the central area.
With the system that Brendan Rodgers is using, Maddison has the most responsibility in terms of attacking creativity in the midfield. If we look at the numbers from the past season Maddison ranks 5th position in terms of total number of chances created throughout the season. It is a big feat considering he had missed almost 1/4 of theseason (after lockdown matches). His absence reflected on Leicester’s final position on the table. When he played regularly, Leicester dominated the Premier League to the extent they were sitting comfortably at 3rd position way ahead of Manchester United and Chelsea. Yet when Maddison was injured they fell down to 5th and failed to qualify for Champions League.English football is currently blessed with a number of talented attacking midfielders and with Maddison's injury he seems to have dropped down the pecking order with many forgetting his contributions the previous season. If Mount is to be used as a central midfielder alongside Rice or Winks, and Grealish continues to occupy the left midfielder/left wing berth then it raises the possibility of Maddison potentially fighting his way back into the side as the main CAM behind Harry Kane should England go 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. It seems unlikely especially with Sterling probably taking Grealish's spot and thus making it a mutiple party fight for the central berth but do not count Maddison out...