Football Features

James Maddison: How Leicester’s ‘ultimate technician’ illuminated Selhurst Park

By CJ Smith

Published: 16:06, 3 November 2019 | Updated: 12:41, 22 April 2020

Leicester City continued their fantastic start to the Premier League season with a 2-0 win away at Crystal Palace on Sunday afternoon.

The Foxes have steamrolled almost everything before them so far but on Sunday, they had some serious questions asked of them by a stubborn, resolute Palace side. Luckily, Leicester had the perfect answer: James Maddison.

Much has been said of the 22-year-old’s brilliance not only this season but throughout 2018/19 too as the former Norwich City man ended the campaign as the only player to create 100 chances.

2019/20 has started in a similar vein for Maddison, becoming the central figure in Brendan Rodgers’ side and impressing so much so that the reports linking him with a future move to Manchester United have only intensified. The Manchester United fans have made their feelings on this well and truly known.

Speaking prior to Sunday’s game, former Leicester striker Emile Heskey was of the belief that Maddison won’t be distracted by the rumours.

“I don’t think it’s a distraction for Maddison because he’s had it from day dot with Coventry to Norwich, and then he’s gone on loan, and then he’s come to Leicester,” he said. “I don’t think it affects him either.”

Maddison demonstrated Heskey’s point perfectly, illuminating an otherwise tight and tactical affair at Selhurst Park with a slew of chances laid on for his teammates and an incredible range of passing.

By half-time, he’d created six chances – more than every other player on the pitch combined – and his perfectly weighted pass around the Palace defence to set Jamie Vardy in on goal in the 18th minute was particularly pleasing on the eye. On another day, had Vardy not been forced to take his shot from a tight angle, Maddison may well have picked up a nice assist for himself.

The second half allowed us a glimpse at Maddison’s mouthwatering set-piece delivery, firing in some beautiful out-swinging corners and laying it on a plate for his onrushing teammates. In fact, it was via this route that Leicester opened the scoring, with Çağlar Söyüncü firing home another Maddison delivery, albeit with a little bit of help from the top of Patrick van Aanholt’s head.

Five minutes later, Maddison took the ball on the left flank on his weaker foot but showed that even there, his creative brilliance is tough to stop, playing a precision pass between the two Palace centre-halves into the path of Harvey Barnes.

The Leicester academy graduate was just unable to take the ball in his stride but it was just another sign that despite Palace sitting deep and proving tough to break down, the Foxes were only one pass away from being in on goal thanks to the genius of their number 10.

James Maddison’s heat map vs Crystal Palace

By the time he left the pitch for a well-earned break in final minutes, Maddison had created eight chances, at least six more than any other player and ended the game with a 97% pass success rate – the highest of any starting player.

That Maddison is yet to receive his senior England debut is something of a travesty, given the Three Lions’ difficulty in creating from midfield recently, but manager Gareth Southgate has had an admittedly tough selection headache recently thanks to the form of Mason Mount. That said, he will be unable to ignore Maddison for much longer if the Coventry-born playmaker keeps splitting defences in this manner.

If you were to ask Maddison himself, he would probably dismiss talk of international football from his mind and insist he’s purely focused on delivering Champions League football – and possibly more – for Leicester City.

The Foxes’ win in south London takes them back above Chelsea into third place in the Premier League table. Whether they’re grinding down a stubborn opponent or unleashing a rain of goals, Maddison is taking the issue and helping drag his side toward that aim at an alarming rate.