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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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