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Quick Hits: Tottenham sign James Maddison
Is he the start of Postecoglou turning Spurs around?
Hi, I’m Grace and I write about football, or soccer if you want to be American about it. If you like this post, be sure to hit subscribe (free or paid) and get the next edition in your inbox.
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I doubt anyone is surprised by this transfer. If you asked the average Premier League fan where James Maddison might end up, they’d probably say something like “I don’t know, Tottenham?” Arguably Spurs’ biggest personnel problem in the last couple of years has been a lack of creativity. Last season under Antonio Conte, Spurs would generally play a pretty functional double pivot of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and either Rodrigo Bentancur or Oliver Skipp, while the wing backs were instructed to stay wide and disciplined. Dejan Kulusevski offered something at times, but didn’t show the consistency he’s capable of and suffered from fitness problems. At times, the only people picking out a pass were Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, who are supposed to be getting on the end of those.
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Maddison instantly changes the equation. His 0.34 xG assisted per 90 last season was better than anyone in a Spurs shirt. And it’s not as though he had brilliant strikers to create chances for. He formed a strong connection with Harvey Barnes, assisting the winger four times, but others struggled in front of goal. Maddison was also the side’s second highest scorer, such was their reliance on him in attack. He could certainly feed Son and Kane.
There are a few issues with this. Obviously, one of them is that Kane might not be at the club. In truth, they should probably cash in now rather than waiting for him to leave for free in 2024. Maddison could offer some of the goal threat Kane would take with him, but nowhere near all of it. Maddison’s shots were taken, on average, 21.1 yards (19.3m) away from goal. Kane’s shots were 24% closer to goal at 16.0 yards out (14.6m). Like Kane, Maddison is legitimately skilled at shooting from range, but he’s never going to replicate the kind of goals Kane frequently scored in the box. He’s obviously someone who would ideally supplement the main goalscorer.
The next is tactical. We don’t quite yet know what new manager Ange Postecoglou will do with this team. What we do know from both Celtic and Yokohama F. Marinos is that he likes to keep his wingers very wide and invites the central midfielders push come forward. If we look at Maddison’s touches last season, provided by Opta Analyst, we can see that wherever he starts off, he likes to end up in those central number ten positions.
I don’t think that would be acceptable for a winger the way Postecoglou ideally wants to use them. If he plays out wide, I’d think he’ll be instructed to stay out on the flank until the side gets closer to the box. I can’t help but think about Jack Grealish at Man City. Grealish has understood and adapted to what Pep Guardiola wants from him, but there were long spells in that first season when people were frustrated that he wasn’t able to do the things that made him stand out at Villa. We could see a similar adaptation process for Maddison.
The other option would be as a more advanced central midfielder. He does fit the model for what Postecoglou wants here, but you worry about his defensive quality. I think this is the more likely role just because of how aggressive Postecoglou is with his midfielders. But he still needs to adapt without the ball. And, yes, since I always bring it up, he needs to be better about deciding to pass rather than shoot.
Of course, Postecoglou might do something different at Spurs. He’ll want to get the best out of Maddison right now because, at age 26, this is a purchase for the player’s prime years. I’ve criticised Maddison a bit in the past, but £40m is a reasonable price for a player who absolutely fills a need on this team. I like this transfer.