Leicester City FC

James Maddison will be key if Leicester are to pick up statement Chelsea win

Matt O'Connor-Simpson
Jan 19, 2021, 6:40 PM GMT
Maddison has been in superb form of late
Maddison has been in superb form of late / Pool/Getty Images
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James Maddison is a man attracting a lot of chatter right now, and not just for his impressive performances on the pitch.

After slipping in behind the Southampton defence and smashing home from close range to put Leicester 1-0 against the Saints on Saturday, Maddison poked fun at the recent moral outrage surrounding footballing celebrations by toasting his strike with several socially-distanced handshakes.

After the game, he offered an explanation, saying: "If little things like that are what we need to keep football going then so be it. We have been told to stop gatherings of people and I tried to make it light-hearted," he told BT Sport (via Goal).

"Footballers, we get a lot of stick and it's nice to put a lighter note on it. I don't think you will find one person in the country who wants football to stop."

It was refreshing to see a player talk so candidly in their post-match interview, and his honesty was recognised and praised on social media.

Beneath Maddison's charming, if slightly 'lads holiday in Zante', demeanour, however, is a remarkable footballer who has quietly undergone a transformation of sorts this season. If Leicester are to beat – and thus got nine points clear of – Chelsea on Tuesday night, he will likely be at the centre of things.

Reports claim that Lampard could be sacked if Chelsea lose on Tuesday
Reports claim that Lampard could be sacked if Chelsea lose on Tuesday / Marc Atkins/Getty Images

The 24-year-old's ability to create chances has always been well known. During the 2018/2019 season – which was his first for Leicester – no-one in Europe, not even human cheat code Lionel Messi, created more chances than him and last campaign he was similarly impressive.

Despite his measly return of three assists, only Jack Grealish, Kevin De Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes averaged more shot creating actions per 90 minutes than him during the previous Premier League term.

The reasons for Maddison's strong chance creation numbers are clear if you have ever watched him play. Not only is he one of the best dead-ball takers in the Premier League, he is also constantly looking to occupy pockets of space between the lines, before attempting to slip a through ball to Jamie Vardy.

In spite of his obscene creative talent, one area in which Maddison has been questioned is his goal scoring. In the tiresome debate about which attacking midfielders and forwards should be starting for England, his lack of finishing ability is often brought up as a reason for the likes of Grealish, Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount and others being above him the pecking order.

Maddison has impressed for Leicester since signing from Norwich
Maddison has impressed for Leicester since signing from Norwich / Pool/Getty Images

Prior to this season, this was a fair point; returns of seven and then six goals in his first two top-flight seasons does not scream 'elite attacker'. This time out though, the tide seems to be turning. In just 16 Premier League games so far, Maddison has already returned five goals. Some of them have been absolute stunners as well, with his vicious strike against Manchester City standing out as the crown jewel, amid stiff competition from the pearler he bagged against Brighton.

This increased scoring output has been facilitated both by a tweak in Leicester's system, and a change in his approach. Firstly, the Foxes now shape up in the 3-4-2-1 most games, which normally means Maddison and Harvey Barnes play behind Vardy. This role affords him a more relaxed defensive workload than the 4-1-4-1 used last season, meaning he can focus on affecting things in the offensive third.

Secondly, Maddison has also added selfishness to his game this season. This is backed up by the stats. While his shot creating actions per 90 are down on the previous season, his progressive distance numbers have increased by 14 yards per 90 compared to the prior campaign.

Nowhere was this change in style more evident than in his most recent goal against Southampton. The move started with Youri Tielemans picking up the ball 30 yards out from goal. In previous seasons Maddison would be likely to drift towards the ball, looking to take it with his back to goal, before trying to find Vardy.

This time though, he looked to run in behind, shrugging off the attentions of Jack Stephens before lashing a shot into the roof of the net from a tight angle.

A lack of goalscorers other than Vardy has consistently been a problem for Leicester, but if Maddison can maintain this appetite for goals, it should soon cease to be a talking point.

Maddison is fighting for his place in next summer's Euros squad
Maddison is fighting for his place in next summer's Euros squad / Michael Regan/Getty Images

His newfound direct approach will be particularly important against Chelsea on Tuesday night. With the Blues defence short of confidence, having won just once in their previous six Premier League fixtures, prior to limping past ten-man Fulham last time out, the dual threats of Maddison and Vardy in behind could prove too much for them to handle.

If he does score again, one thing is for sure. The celebration is going to be a memorable one.

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