How James Maddison would provide the glue in Man Utd's attack

Manchester Evening News Sports 0 month ago

The Premier League campaign is only nine matches old, yet Manchester United continue to be linked with various names and superstars from across Europe. One player who has certainly caught the club's attention is Leicester City's James Maddison.

The midfielder made his move from Norwich City in 2018, and he's made quite the impression in England's top-flight since his £20m transfer.

United seem intent on avoiding mistakes in the transfer market due to the errors made in previous years, and although Maddison appears capable, he's being judged based largely on one-and-a-half seasons of performances.

How can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer be sure that Maddison would be a success?

Firstly, as is always the case when undertaking squad building, it depends on what United would be buying him for.

Maddison is a creative type, who's capable of adding quality in the final third, with his best position arguably being as a no.10. He's played a variety of roles since Brendan Rodgers' arrival, but appears to thrive most when deployed centrally, behind a striker.


The Leicester attacker scored seven and assisted seven in all club competitions last season, having amassed over 3000 minutes. Interestingly, though, his goal against Tottenham last month was his first in open-play since December 5, with four of his seven goals last season coming direct from set-piece situations.

This emphasises the point that Maddison is primarily a creator, and his underlying performance figures reinforce that notion.

Expected Goals (xG) can be used to gain an insight into how likely a player is to score in a match based on the shots he's taking, with each having a value based on aspects such as location and difficulty.

Maddison's xG per 90 in the league last season was 0.25, which was bettered by the likes of Ayoze Perez, Chris Wood, Steve Mounie, and Gylfi Sigurdsson to name but a few. This year, he's posting 0.26 which is virtually identical.

His figure isn't bad, but it's not exactly outstanding either and, above all else, it indicates that he's not particularly likely to score or get on the end of chances in open play.


Expected Assists (xA) can also be used, though, to gain an insight into how inventive a player is by considering every chance he creates, rather than solely those that result in goals. Maddison's xA per 90 is 0.28, which was bettered by just five players in the league last year based on those that played at least 1500 minutes.

Those players were Raheem Sterling, Eden Hazard, Ryan Fraser, Pascal Gross and Alex Iwobi. Maddison's figure suggests that he provided quality chances during matches. His figure may have received a boost because he takes set-pieces, but nevertheless, it's a high creation figure and it suggests that he may have suffered as a result of those around him not being clinical enough.

This season, his xA is slightly down to 0.2 per 90, but that's likely as a consequence of Leicester playing unusually safe under Rodgers, with the team currently seventh in the division for shots taken.

If Maddison was to be defined by a strict role, he'd be labelled as a creative no.10, who's productive from set-pieces, but shouldn't be overly relied upon to score in open-play. It's also worth noting that he's technically very strong with an eye for a pass, while not being the quickest across the ground.

From a United perspective, it does appear as though Solskjaer has a void for a player in the mould of Maddison.

4-2-3-1 has been the United boss' go-to formation this season, used against every opponent with the exception of Liverpool. Despite that, Solskjaer is without a creative talent to play centrally behind the striker but ahead of the midfield.

Juan Mata's peak years seem behind him, and Andreas Pereira is useful but it's reasonable to suggest that he isn't at Maddison's level.

If the Leicester midfielder was to operate as the team's no.10, Marcus Rashford could then play on the left flank, with Daniel James potentially on the right, and Anthony Martial through the middle as the team's lone striker. These teammates would compensate for Maddison's lack of pace, as he'd be surrounded by speedy runners.


Ultimately, Maddison is most likely to thrive with runners around him and when responsible for supplying his teammates. Considering United have pace in abundance in offensive areas, deploying Maddison at the heart of such an attack with space being created around him would likely prove to be highly problematic for most opposing defences.

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