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Scout Report: James Maddison | Norwich’s Technically Gifted Midfielder

Connor Southwell provides a detailed scout report on Norwich’s technically gifted midfielder, James Maddison

After the underwhelming campaign suffered by Norwich City during the 2016-17 season, huge changes have occurred on and off the pitch at Carrow Road. The club seem to have sacrificed expectation in order to build a more sustained substructure in Norfolk. Radical changes in staffing and playing personnel has ensued, with Norwich opting for a more continental structure by appointing ex-Huddersfield Head of Football Operations, Stuart Webber as the  newly created Sporting Director.

Webber has been industrious since his arrival, evidenced by the removal and replacement of all the heads of departments on the football side, releasing several senior players as he reduced an inflamed wage budget and oversaw the biggest turnover of players in the division.

This has led Norwich to reduce the size of their playing squad, with a greater emphasis being placed on younger players, who have been given an opportunity to play a significant role in the club’s rebuild. Following the sale of Jacob Murphy to Newcastle in the summer, many were expecting his brother, Josh, to step up and become a prominent player for the Norwich senior side, yet it’s been another young footballer who has dominated the spotlight.

Enter James Maddison.

Many supporters were calling upon Daniel Farke to install Maddison and tap into his undoubted technical quality. With Alex Pritchard sidelined until early 2018 and an ever aging Wes Hoolahan being more bit part, Maddison has become a prominent figure in the side and grasped the attention of national media in the aftermath of stunning strikes at Reading and Middlesbrough. Norwich seemed to have unearthed a hidden gem in Maddison, the question remains over whether they can afford to keep him, should he maintain this exemplary run of form.

Despite seemingly obvious comparisons with Norwich legend Hoolahan, Maddison seems keen to learn from an adept Head Coach who has placed an unbelievable amount of trust in the young offensive midfielder.

Who is James Maddison?

The 20 year old midfielder is a prodigy of the Coventry City academy and along with Ben Stevenson was expected to outgrow the club due to his technical qualities. It was Maddison that impressed with the Under 18’s side at the Ricoh Arena in 2013-14, and was subsequently rewarded with a squad number and a chance in the first team squad. He made his debut a year later in the League Cup. Maddison has developed an unbelievable technical ability which saw Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool develop an interest in the young midfielder.

Maddison chose Norwich over the aforementioned ‘big guns’ as he felt his development would be more progressive at Norwich. Maddison had become frustrated before Farke as he was sent out on loan to Aberdeen, where he scored a beautifully struck free kick against Rangers. On his return to Norfolk, Maddison has played an integral role in the Canaries’ season to date, establishing himself as a key component of Farke’s new tactical philosophy.

Webber and Farke immediately recognized the potential of the young midfielder, rewarding him with a new contract until 2021. Maddison has played nine games in the Championship this season at the time of writing, scoring twice.

What is his Style of Play?

Capable of performing in both central and attacking midfield, Maddison is a technically exquisite player who seems to be the long term replacement for Wes Hoolahan. Very rarely are Norwich City supporters excited by a young talent, but James Maddison has the world at his feet. He has the ability to vary the length of his passing, adjusting weight and pace almost effortlessly.

Maddison is often the protagonist in offensive play and is instrumental in combination play in the attacking third of the pitch, combining the simplicity of his short passes with the complexity of his dribbling skills which help penetrate opponent’s defences. Furthermore,  Maddison is a key link between midfield and attack, playing between the lines in the newly adopted 4-2-3-1 formation, he  turns sustained and patient possession into goal scoring opportunities.

He has also displayed his ability to play in a deeper central midfield role if required. His ability to complete the dogged part of the game is perhaps a surprise to many due to his physical stature.  Maddison has a nasty streak which makes him difficult to play against.

What are his Strengths?

Maddison’s low centre of gravity is essential to his game. This allows him to beat defenders using a faint or subtle change of direction with impeccable execution.  This allows him to create space or goal scoring positions from deep areas by unlocking tight spaces and expanding the pitch. The way he drops his shoulder to his offensive benefit is reminiscent of Hoolahan, effortlessly using this technique to create space on the pitch to find a team mate. Maddison has a successful dribble rate of 90%, which emphasises his talent when dribbling.

A further strength of his is his passing and ball retention. Maddison currently boasts an 89% pass completion rate this campaign, which is superior to all bar one of his colleagues, Harrison Reed, who has played fewer games than Maddison. Since his deployment in the attacking midfield position, Maddison has enjoyed excellent creative freedom. He’s flourishing in a role where there is an emphasis on his distribution, which is paramount to the team’s offensive success, as he is the main cog in the offensive clockwork.

Perhaps surprisingly, despite his obvious technical talent, Maddison has displayed a high level of defensive resilience this campaign. Maddison averages two tackles per game alongside 0.6 clearances also. The central midfield role he was played  in has developed this side of his game and he can also be an important part of Norwich’s defensive shape in the press, using his fitness to press relentlessly and carry out his tackling in advanced areas.

Finally, his long shot and set piece expertise. Maddison scored a sublime free kick which had technique, pace and dip onto the ball. It, if anything epitomises Maddison’s consistent quality. These televised goals are a wonderful demonstration of his talent. His Middlesbrough goal was struck from distance; using the instep of his foot to create finesse but the quickness of his follow through creates pace and the straight leg which he uses provides the dip. It’s a technically outstanding strike from a young player still in the embryonic stages of his career.

What are his Weaknesses?

Positional awareness is something Maddison needs to refine. Often he comes far too deep to receive the ball and the pivot between the defence and the attack becomes lost. As a confident young player, Maddison will always seek to get onto the ball and orchestrate the pace of the play as he is desperate to get onto the ball and pull strings. Yet, he needs to stay disciplined and do his job of occupying opposing midfielders, thus creating space for his central midfielders to play and reducing the isolation of the central striker. A bit of refinement and experience will aid this.

Secondly, his ability to compete in aerial duels. Maddison wins 10% of aerial duels per match, which though not a necessity of his game, is certainly a weakness. The opponents can use their physicality to bully Maddison off the ball or force him to drop into a deeper position due to frustration. Whilst this isn’t as much of a pressing concern as his positional play, Maddison will need to improve should he develop into an elite footballer. His pace is another issue, but his technical ability compensates for this lack of pace.

Connor Southwell

Connor Southwell

Norwich born, 17 year old freelance football writer and Norwich City supporter. Contact him at Connor is a deep studier of the tactical side of football and considers himself as a ‘football geek’. He talks about the game probably more than his family.
Connor Southwell

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