ANALYTICS BLOG: IS JAMES MADDISON THE ONE?

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Number cruncher sent by the footballing gods, Adam Rae Voge (@AdamVoge), has dropped in with ANOTHER brilliant piece. Today, he’s focused on the potential signing of James Maddison. 

For all the talk of potential midfield, centre-back, and right-back additions at Arsenal this summer, there really hasn’t been talk about the incoming attacking midfielder. Why? It’s always been Martin Odegaard.

Until now.

With Odegaard being pretty consistently linked with a return to Spain, Arsenal fans got their first glimpse of a new creator this week, as reports linked the club to Leicester City creator extraordinaire James Maddison.

Opinions about the potential 70-million-Euro man abound, but just how good is he? Would he be an upgrade over Odegaard? I turned to the data to compare Maddison to some of the world’s greatest creators. Here’s what I found.

Editorial note: I know several of these names are not true Number 10s. But all percentile ranks are compared to all attacking midfielders, not just those playing centrally. I’m trying to compare all creators here, so I’ve included some of the best 8s, as well as some notable attacking midfielders who play both centrally and on the wing.

Ball pressure

One thing I always heard about Martin Odegaard was how good he was at marshaling the Arsenal press. That’s something a good attacking midfielder should do, so I compared some of the biggest names in terms of pressures in the attacking third, successful pressures and ball recoveries. Surprisingly, Odegaard ranked last among the options detailed here.

Dani Olmo, Roberto Firmino, Kevin De Bruyne and Thomas Muller were among the best at pressuring and recovering the ball. Maddison? He was closer to the back of the pack than the front this past season, with largely average percentile ranks in each statistic. He did prove to be an above-average attacker at recovering the ball, ranking in the 66th percentile. Odegaard, for the record, ranked in the 32nd percentile in that category last year.

Maddison’s average rank in those 4 ball pressure statistics was 55th, putting him in the middle of all attacking midfielders. For reference, De Bruyne averaged a rank in the 84th percentile. Mason Mount was in the 80th.

Possession

Another quality of a top creator is the ability to carry the ball forward into the attack without turning it over. This is where someone like Leo Messi excels – last season he was literally in the 99th percentile in carries, progressive carries and carries into the final third, while ranking in the 95th percentile in miscontrols. That’s what an elite carrier and ball controller looks like.

So what of Maddison? As with his ball pressure, he struggled in this area. Last season, Maddison ranked in the 81st percentile among attackers in carries, but was otherwise average or worse in five other ball security statistics. One particular area of weakness: he carried the ball into the penalty area only rarely, ranking in the 31st percentile.

Maddison’s ranks in these seven statistics averaged out to the 51st percentile, again putting him in dead-average territory as a ball carrier. For reference, Bukayo Saka would have been in the 54th percentile, Emile Smith Rowe the 45th percentile, and Martin Odegaard was in the 61st. Phil Foden ranked in the 76th percentile, with Jack Grealish in the 74th.

That’s less than inspiring for an attack that struggles at time to get up the pitch.

Passing and creation

And of course, the skill that matters most – passing and chance creation. This is thankfully one area where Maddison continued to flash his skill in 2020-2021, ranking in the 95th percentile in both progressive passing and shot-creating actions. Maddison’s stats as a passer placed him in the 81st percentile across nine passing and creation statistics this past season, just below Bruno Fernandes and Mason Mount, who were both in the 83rd percentile, and a little further behind Jack Grealish, in the 85th. Passing and creation are a particular strength of Odegaard’s, and this past year he placed in the 80th percentile, ahead of names like Phil Foden and Thomas Muller.

The big picture

So what does this all say about James Maddison? I’ll say this: According to the data, Maddison was above average among attacking midfielders this past season. When you combine all the statistics mentioned here, Maddison’s average rank was in the 63rd percentile. That’s nowhere near Leo Messi, (81st percentile), of course, but it would be an improvement over Odegaard, right?

Well, no. Martin Odegaard was just ahead of Maddison this past season, in the 64th percentile. But that doesn’t fit the narrative of a 70-million-Euro midfielder, does it? Something just doesn’t feel right here.

The twist

I won’t blame you if you don’t know the ins and outs of Leicester City’s injury history. I certainly don’t. But toward the end of this past season, Maddison the better part of a month with a hip injury. Leicester won three in that stretch without Maddison, lost two (including to Arsenal), and drew against Burnley. The creator returned as a substitute in an April 3 loss to Man City, didn’t see the pitch in a loss to West Ham, and finally made his return to the lineup in an April 22 thrashing of West Brom. Maddison played well against West Brom, but struggled for the rest of the season, frequently getting subbed off, and finishing only the April 30 match with Southampton, a 1-1 draw. Leicester finished the season winning only five of ten with Maddison playing, with four losses.

Is it possible that hip injury impaired Maddison’s form? He had scored in the February 21 win over Aston Villa, the same game in which he was injured. Prior to that, he had a goal and three assists in five games, and just before that scored six goals during a torrid eight-game run in December and January.

Just to be safe, I decided to see where the James Maddison of 2019-2020 would rank in these categories. Here’s what I found:

Ball Pressure

Maddison was quite a lot better at pressuring the ball in 19-20. His successful pressures would have put him in the 79th percentile this year, and recoveries would have been in the 74th. His aggregate rank was 11 spots better, in the 66th percentile.

Possession

Another area where Maddison really fell off this season. Maddison’s carries from the 2019-20 season would have put him in the 92nd percentile this year. His control over the ball was much better, too: He would have ranked in the 75th percentile in miscontrols and 65th in dispossessions, instead of 51st and 53rd, respectively. His aggregate rank would have bumped up into the 66th percentile, just ahead of Martin Odegaard.

Maddison was outstanding as a creator and passer in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, and that’s one are where he actually improved a bit year-over-year.

The big picture, take two

Taking the entire picture into consideration, the James Maddison of 2019-2020 is on a similar level to Bruno Fernandes or Bernardo Silva. That’s certainly less underwhelming, and maybe even reason to get excited about a potential transfer.

So why did Maddison’s numbers dip this season, and which version of the player will show up this year? Mikel Arteta and Edu seem ready to put their money where on the elite version of the Leicester playmaker – I hope they’re right.

Give @AdamVoge a follow and tell him you loved his piece.

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779 Responses to “ANALYTICS BLOG: IS JAMES MADDISON THE ONE?”

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  1. Rich

    Just told the Mrs that I’ve come down with a case of premature ejaculation

    Fair play to her though, she took it straight on the chin

  2. Rich

    A few links with Aouar for as low as £20 million

    High risk, high reward, maybe worth a punt at that sort of price

    Struggled to last 60 minutes this season, regularly subbed early in the second half, and only lasted the 90 on 6 occasions

    Partey gassed out at around 70 minutes last season, his passing then became erratic, tired legs, tired mind

    Having 2 midfielders with potential stamina issues, certainly wouldn’t be ideal

    Aouar’s application + professionalism also called into question, and we could certainly do without another disinterested mercenary

    Looks a real talent, he’s at a good age and a decent amount of experience, some worrying red flags though

  3. Mb

    Only way Arteta can convince me selling Saliba is, he use that 15m, adds it up to 60m for Madison and buys Grealish.

    60m for Madison? FFS.

  4. Marc

    Rich

    If a player is struggling to make it past 60 minutes in the French league I’d be concerned about how he’d last in the PL.

  5. Leedsgunner

    “”Struggled to last 60 minutes this season, regularly subbed early in the second half, and only lasted the 90 on 6 occasions”

    Errr, isn’t this what Özil did regularly? How did he get treated by the coaches at fans at Arsenal post Wenger?

    If his fitness is that bad that he can’t play for 90 mins, we need to pass.

  6. Leedsgunner

    If Odegaard is still our primary target, even though Real Madrid has said no, Arteta has learnt his lessons well.

    Remember when Wenger dithered like this transfer window after transfer window? When challenged what was it he said? “I discovered him, I tried to bring him in…. I worked 247 to bring him in.” or other such rubbish.

    Sounds like Arteta is trying to same trick.

    Someone should tell him that we’ve seen this show before. It’s nothing new and he’s not fooling anyone.

    Maybe we should face the truth that Arteta doesn’t have the pulling power to players that he thought he had?

  7. Tom

    “Why would Grealish join Arsenal?“

    Same reason Partey and Willian have ………………to work under the most talented young coach in Europe. Just ask Pedro.

  8. Mb

    Why would Grealish join Arsenal?

    He is an Arsenal fan apparently. He can get more than 120k /week here. We are bigger than Aston Villa.

    It all comes down to ££ though. Partey leaving AM and Champions League for Arsenal was one such thing.

    I believe we have a better chance for Graelish than Madison. Leicester/Arsenal > Aston Villa.

  9. Leedsgunner

    “…to work under the most talented young coach in Europe.”

    Who, Julian Nagaelsmann? He’s not Arsenal manager.

    Only if he was though.

  10. Marc

    Mb

    Grealish leaves Villa and there’s a host of clubs who can offer the same or higher wages and would pay a bigger fee who can also offer European football.

    ManU have Pogba down to a year on his contract – they’ll need to replace and will not want to see their record signing go without a major statement.

  11. Rich

    I’m not suggesting we sign Grealish or aim for players at the top of the market, even though I like the player

    But I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if we made a transfer like that this summer

    My preference would be Odegaard, but if we went for Maddison, or got a free shot at Grealish, I think we might go for it

    I certainly think we’ll spend money on an attacking midfielder

  12. Ernest Reed

    “Someone should tell him that we’ve seen this show before. It’s nothing new and he’s not fooling anyone.”

    Wasnt Arteta himself a byproduct of a severe panic buying binge from Wenger that brought the likes of Santos? Brought on by that memorably forgettable shellacking at the hands of ManU (8-2)?

  13. Marc

    Rich

    At face value you’d say the two most critical areas to strengthen this summer are CM and CAM followed by RB.

    It all comes down to how much we have to spend and what we spend on each player – we’re being linked with big money signings but good players are available for a lot less if you do job properly.

  14. Ernest Reed

    On rumours alone, surely there must be better ways to spend approximately £75m than on an often injured Madison and a questionable keeper in Ramsdale?

    If these hold true then oh my.

  15. Ernest Reed

    Grealish is not coming to Arsenal, why would he? At Villa he runs the show and effectively at that. At Arsenal Arteta runs the show and Grealish’s creativity will be stunted because he wont buy into Arteta ‘s restrictive offensive plan (don’t know what else to call it actually).

    Grealish isn’t going anywhere this coming season.

  16. Rich

    Marc

    I agree, but our scouting is generally awful

    Buying Grealish or Maddison is the most unimaginative thing we could do, all it’ll take is the transfer fee, and attractive wages

    Leicester or Villa would then reinvest the proceeds of the sale, and do what you’re suggesting we do, instead of buying at the top of the market for a replacement

    I can understand if we are looking at PL ready players, you never know how long players take to settle, or if they’ll settle at all

    We’ll get some teething problems if we make a few changes next season, but we can limit them, by buying inside the domestic market, but PL ready players come with a premium

  17. raptora

    I would argue that getting someone like Dumfries is top priority. If we get both flanks working, we don’t even need an AM that bad, proven by Pool and City playing without KDB (who is more of a CM) for a long time.

    Dumfries: “The Premier League and the Bundesliga, they suit my game. I can see the headlines again, but I think I can say this and I think everyone can see that I am ready to move on. I have played for four years at the highest level in the Netherlands and have played more than a hundred matches for PSV. It will soon be time for the next step.”

    If we could make it happen, Dumfries will be a phenomenal signing to get everything going.

  18. Mb

    Marc

    Agreed, there are other potential suitors but we can still attract players by paying higher wages.

    I know Grealish is highly impossible. But if you can make Madison possible (Leicester > Villa) with 60m+, put additional 15£ you receive from Saliba and get Grealish.

    If you wanna waste money, waste it on something shiny 🙂

  19. Valentin

    Mb,

    Grealish is an Arsenal fan!
    Are you sure about that.
    First time I hear that. I thought he was raised in a family of Villa fans and that he was a massive Aston Villa fan himself.