The 2020-21 Premier League season has officially reached the halfway mark, and what a season it has been thus far.
It’s hard to evaluate English talent.
Every serviceable English talent is treated with the reverence of the second coming of Bobby Charlton, making it quite difficult to not have high expectations.
These sky high expectations usually end in one word: disappointment. It’s given young English talents the negative reputation of being overrated, which is quite harsh as they have no control over the media storm that follows them.
The latest talent in this cycle is 23-year-old Leicester midfielder James Maddison.
To evaluate any English talent, the first thing you must do is separate yourself from the hype, just watch him, do a data analysis and come to your own conclusion on what he is as a player.
So today I will be deep diving into the Maddison numbers to determine whether he’s worth the hype.
Part 1: Maddison as a creator
An attacking midfielder’s first duty is creating. Everything else is secondary to this one trait. Maddison has three assists. This is why I don’t make assists the end all and be all when it comes to measuring a player’s creativity.
Key passes are passes that directly led to a shot. Of all Premier League players, only Kevin De Bruyne (97 KPs) led Maddison’s 83, yet De Bruyne has 17 assists to Maddison’s three. He’s been extremely unlucky as a creator. Everyone else in the top seven of KPs has more than six assists except him. His expected assists of 6.9 are more in line.
While the above adjustment properly rates Maddison as a good playmaker, he’s sadly not a great one. PPA or completed passes into the penalty area is a stat that measures a player’s ability to put the ball into the danger area, the box. Of everyone in the top four in KPs, Maddison is last in this stat, posting 43 PPA. He’s 23 PPAs behind third-placed Jack Grealish, 29 PPAs behind second-placed Trent Alexander-Arnold and a mind-boggling 56 PPAs behind stat leader Kevin De Bruyne.
This mix of stats show Maddison is creative but he’s not someone who puts the ball in the danger area a ton. He is a mixed bag. If you want Maddison to come over and be your creative hub a la De Bruyne, you’ll be disappointed quick, so that eliminates teams like Arsenal.
But if you have a multi-creator system in place that brings out the best in each player, such as Liverpool, Manchester City or his current team, he’ll fit right in.
Part 2: Maddison as a goal-scorer
Attacking midfielders must create first but they should also be capable of getting some goals themselves from time to time. Maddison’s six goals give a surface-level view of him as a creator. A deeper analysis is needed to truly see his goal-scoring prowess.
Maddison has taken 71 shots. He’s put 18 on target for a 25 per cent shooting accuracy (SA). That’s bad but it’s also okay since he’s a midfielder. De Bruyne is posting a 29 per cent SA himself so I’ll take it.
His conversion rate of eight per cent is ghastly but then again in line with other prominent midfielders taking his volume of shots or more such as De Bruyne on 11 per cent and Mason Mount on eight. And his on-target conversion rate is 33 per cent, leading his closest volume competitor Mount by 11 per cent and trailing De Bruyne by six. To cut a long story short, Maddison is an inefficient volume shooter. He’ll take a lot of shots and score here and there.
Projecting him into a team, again, only a multi-creative team with goal scorers already present will allow him to thrive. So that really narrows down my list to City or Liverpool or his current team. If you bring him to be your second or third goal scorer, you’ll be greatly disappointed.
Part 3: Maddison as a ball handler
Maddison is all the way down at 33 in attempted dribbles but that’s not to say he’s a bad dribbler. He’s completed 66 per cent of his 79 attempts, showing he’s more than capable of phasing past an opponent when necessary.
Maddison is top five in most interceptions given away but compared to everyone in the top five he does it at the lowest rate (closer to one a game than most at two a game) and the list is full of creators. Sometimes the risky pass doesn’t come off. I won’t hold it against him.
In progressive distance passing (yards from passes that only go forward, no sideways yards or back-to-goal yards are counted), the only midfielder creating at his volume and putting up a better PDP per game is De Bruyne and Norwich’s Emi Buendia.
Maddison grades out as a good dribbler, who gives away the ball at an acceptable rate while pushing passes down the field. He can perform this role on any team but it would thrive with teams who create from the wings because Maddison isn’t afraid to hold possession, beat a man and push the ball to an overlapping defensive back down the field.
There is a whole lot of good. Maddison – unlike the vast majority of media-hyped players – is actually really good but he’s not special and if you’re buying him to be special, that’s where you’ll be disappointed.
He’s a good creator, a good dribbler and an effective, attack-minded passer but that isn’t worth £80 million ($144 million). Emi Buendia is right there with Maddison on the majority of stats and actually grades better on some and would cost £40 to £50 million ($72-90 million) less.
He’s good, but he’s not £70-£80 million ($126-144 million) good but it’s still great he didn’t go to Manchester United. He would’ve never been enough there. It’s great Hakim Ziyech went to Chelsea to do what they actually want and not force a round peg into a square hole and it’s great my Arsenal are cash-strapped so as to not miscast another great young talent.
Maddison is in the perfect situation for himself at Leicester. He fits everything about the system and the system fits him back. Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener and Maddison can continue to enjoy the golf field Brendan Rodgers has crafted for him and his teammates over there at Leicester.