Can Gareth Southgate really ignore the incredible form of James Maddison?
Only four players (Erling Haaland, Harry Kane, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ivan Toney) have scored more Premier League goals this season than James Maddison. The 25-year-old is arguably in better form than any other English player right now, but it’s far from certain he will be included in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the 2022 World Cup. Maddison has only ever made one appearance for England and that appearance came all the way back in 2019. Since then, Southgate has overlooked the Leicester City midfielder in favour of Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount. In his current form, though, Maddison surely can’t be ignored.
Under Southgate, England have struggled for creativity and invention through the middle of the pitch. This was an issue even as the Three Lions made a run to the final of Euro 2020 and recent performances in the Nations League suggest it will also be a problem at the 2022 World Cup. England remain a predictable side in the final third. This is where Maddison could offer something different. There’s no doubting the talent of Foden, Grealish and Mount, but Maddison is capable of producing something out of nothing. The 25-year-old is one of the best long-range shooters playing in the Premier League right now and would give England an option when nothing else is working.
“He scores goals and creates goals. He is one of the leading talents of the country, not only the effort he puts in but everything he does,” Brendan Rodgers explained when asked to assess Maddison’s chances of making it to Qatar. “I’m pretty sure he’s going to be in Gareth’s [Southgate’s] thinking, he just needs to keep performing well for Leicester.” Leicester City have struggled for consistency this season with Rodgers coming under pressure due to a disappointing start to the campaign, but Maddison has more than delivered for the Foxes. The 25-year-old is clearly driven by the motivation of playing for England at a World Cup and Southgate should reward that.
Southgate’s default 3-4-3 formation doesn’t leave much room for Maddison to find a position in the starting lineup, but the landscape could shift if England switch to a back four at any point during the World Cup. This would open up a place in midfield with Maddison at his best in a central role in a 4-2-3-1.
At Euro 2020, Southgate faced criticism for being too conservative in the way he partnered Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice in central midfield. The England manager liked the security this gave his team and ultimately worked as the Three Lions ground out results on their way to the final where they only lost in a shootout to Italy. The inclusion of Maddison would give Southgate the option of sticking with a conservative midfield pairing to anchor England in the centre of the pitch with the Leicester City playmaker more comfortable in behind a central striker than any of the options currently available. Maddison is so advanced in some of his positioning that he occasionally operates as a secondary striker.
England need strong personalities to stand a chance of winning the World Cup in Qatar and Maddison certainly has that with the 25-year-old also naturally confident in his own ability. Nothing will intimidate him. Maddison has a swagger on the pitch and England could use some of that. England have so many options all over the pitch that many talented players will be left disappointed as they miss out on the 26-man squad for the 2022 World Cup. Maddison has surely done enough to ensure he won’t be one of them. Southgate can’t ignore someone who is playing at such a high level.