Rightly or wrongly, the Premier League is regarded by many as the most competitive league in world football, and one that allows some of the game’s great talents to showcase their ability against the very best week in, week out.
Some rise to superstardom and go on to achieve great things in the game, while others show glimpses of real top drawer ability before failing to hit the heights they seem capable of achieving.
One player who is arguably in the conversation of great young talents is Leicester midfielder James Maddison. 14 months ago, he had the world at his feet as he sought a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad, his mind focused on securing a place at Euro 2020.
“That’s what I’ve got to do, I’ve got to play well in these big games,” Maddison said at the time. “These games are a brilliant platform for me to do well and show the England manager what I’m all about.”
But fast forward the clock, and Maddison was one of 11 Leicester players who trudged off down the Anfield tunnel this past weekend after an injury ravaged Liverpool had wiped the floor with the Foxes in a convincing 3-0 win.
For Maddison, it was another example of an opportunity to shine on the big stage passing him by,
made all the more painful by the defeat coming off the back of a two-week long international triple header that he wasn’t a part of.
What’s worse is that while other young creative English midfielders have seen their reputation skyrocket recently – Jack Grealish, Mason Mount and Phil Foden to name just three – Maddison’s stock has plummeted, stunted by injury problems that have seen him play the full 90 minutes of a Premier League game just once this season and the form of the aforementioned trio.
His time out of the Leicester side with a hip injury has cost him valuable game time, and has certainly seen him lose his sharpness. Undoubtedly, niggles are to blame, as Maddison clearly still has the technical prowess to be one of the Premier League’s standout performers.
What the former Norwich City star must do is embrace his words from 14 months ago, and find a way to influence and assert himself in big games – particularly those against the top six, where Leicester aspire to continue being.
His importance to Brendan Rodgers’ side is – and was – illustrated by their failure to qualify for this season’s Champions League, having comfortably sat in the top four for large portions of last season.
With Maddison on the sidelines, perhaps caused by the fact the was fouled on average 2.8 times per game last season – far higher than the previous campaign – Leicester lost their impetus, failing to find that creative spark to supplement the goals of Jamie Vardy.
Maddison has that game changing aura about him, but barring his wonder goal against City from the bench earlier this season, there’s rarely been a game since he returned to action where you’ve sat back and thought ‘cor, he was really good today’.
For whatever reason, Maddison also appears to be more shot shy than he once was. He could be under instruction from Rodgers to play more conservatively, or it could be down to confidence – but only attempting 0.8 shots per game from outside the box, in comparison to 1.6 in the previous two seasons, shows there has been some drop off.
Yes, injuries are still playing their part and he’s still on the road to full unhindered fitness, but cast your mind back to Leicester’s fairytale title winning 2015/16 campaign; Riyad Mahrez waltzing through Manchester City’s defence at the Etihad, Vardy setting a Premier League record of scoring in 11 consecutive matches. Big game moments for big game players.
Currently, Maddison looks way off the pace in that regard, and that’s something that he and Leicester must address if they are to achieve their respective goals for the season. The 24-year-old will know more than anybody; talk is cheap, and for him to fulfil his promise, he must begin to deliver when his side need him to step up.
Minutes under his belt is the first step, but then it’s down to Maddison’s mentality, self belief and drive to deliver on his words – if he doesn’t, the days of being linked with moves to the likes of Manchester United will feel like a very distant memory.