Superb Maddison ‘ready’ for World Cup place
It was another match-winning performance from James Maddison on Saturday evening. The attacking midfielder drove Leicester forward throughout their 2-0 win against Everton and picked up two brilliant assists.
The numbers match up too. He was top in the match for assists (2), shots (8) – seven of which were inside the box – and touches in the opposition box (15). He was also top for dribbles and duels won (both five).
Maddison has been directly involved in 22 Premier League goals in 2022 (13 goals, 9 assists) with only Harry Kane (32), Kevin De Bruyne (29) and Heung-Min Son (25) having had a hand in more in the competition this year.
And with the World Cup fast approaching, it begs the question – will Maddison make it into Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad? He is one of the most in-form England midfielders as things stand, but has not featured for his country since November 2019.
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers believes Maddison is ready to go to Qatar 2022.
He told Sky Sports: “For me it’s not a debate, that’s the reality. I respect there’s so many top players, it’s great to see so many attacking players doing really well, but if you can’t find a player of that quality that has produced consistently over the last 18 months, then it’s obviously sad from a football perspective.
“His ability on the ball, his awareness, cleverness, you want to be creating and scoring goals and he’s one of the best at that. He’s a player that has risk in his game but he has risk at the right moments. An absolutely brilliant player who’s ready for a World Cup with his maturity, 25 years of age and he’s performing like that week in, week out in the Premier League. He can do no more. He’s an outstanding talent.”
It is hard to disagree with him. While Maddison did suffer a dip in form, he looks to be back to his best now, possibly playing his best-ever football.
Maddison will be asked about the England squad, whether he is included or not, for the foreseeable future, and he admits the upcoming announcement is on his mind.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t in my mind because the World Cup’s nearly here and that’s the pinnacle, that’s the dream,” he told Sky Sports’ Geoff Shreeves after the game.
“I always say the same answer and it becomes a bit cliche but if I focus on what I do for Leicester and my performances here, hopefully that catches the eye of the England manager and hopefully I can force my way into his plans.
“It’s out of my control and I can just do what I did then for 90 minutes.”
If there was one thing that perhaps was a mark against him on Saturday it was his finishing. Maddison fired just wide three times in the first half alone and hit the post. He may have topped the charts with eight shots, but the accuracy was a problem.
However, no player would ever admit they are the finished article. His overall stats in terms of goal involvements speak for themselves, and Southgate would need a very good reason to not include Maddison.
We wait to see whether the England manager does select him, but he is certainly helping spark Leicester’s resurgence.
Faes in – Rodgers in!
Only a month ago, some Leicester supporters unveiled a banner calling for the club’s board to take “action” with the Foxes sat inside the relegation zone.
It followed after a direct call of “Rodgers Out” scrawled on a bed sheet as the Foxes were hammered 5-2 by Brighton.
The feeling would have been a bit different in the away end at Goodison Park on Saturday night. A resolute 2-0 victory gave Leicester their fourth win in seven to move them up to 13th and two points above the drop. The only way is up now.
Leicester shipped 22 goals in their opening seven matches, in their last seven they have conceded just twice. The introduction of Wout Faes, one of only two summers signings and a £15m deadline-day addition, has been pivotal to their defensive upturn and ultimately results.
“He plays as if he’s much older,” Rodgers exclusively told Sky Sports. “He knows football – and having guys in your backline that know the game makes a huge difference.
“He’s well educated in football, you can see that in how he plays and his game is suited to the Premier League. He’s aggressive for us. The types of defenders I like – he defends forward, he presses the game well, he’s good when it comes into the box, he gets his head on it and he can play football.”
Without injured captain Jonny Evans alongside him against Everton, Faes was unfazed and led a solid defensive performance to shush the Leicester boo-boys.
Haaland rescue act written in the stars
There were scenes of relief as the Etihad erupted at full-time. When news broke that Aleksandar Mitrovic would not be involved due to a slight ankle issue, Manchester City supporters must have felt they were in for a routine afternoon against Fulham.
Julian Alvarez continued his encouraging run of form by opening the scoring, but there would be nothing routine about this 10th straight home win in all competitions for Pep Guardiola’s side.
What is it about 3pm kick-offs at Eastlands? City have often taken their eye off the ball when the UK television cameras are not watching, but it was a firm refereeing decision – not complacency – which turned this contest into a right dogfight in the driving rain.
Guardiola did not look happy after Joao Cancelo’s red card, but despite the numerical advantage for Fulham, City would enjoy 71 per cent of the ball and register 16 attempts to their opponents’ four. Alvarez looks an outstanding young talent who was unfortunate to be the man replaced as Haaland entered the fray but Guardiola would be vindicated.
This was a below-par performance from his side – only Kevin De Bruyne kept up his form – but winning is all that matters as we edge towards the enforced World Cup break.
For both of City’s goals here Bernd Leno could be questioned, with Haaland’s penalty squirming underneath his body, but having missed the last two games through injury, it was a dramatic denouement written in the stars.
Leeds frustrating but show incredible desire
From boos at half-time to jubilation at the final whistle, Leeds fans experienced every possible emotion during Saturday’s remarkable 4-3 comeback win over Bournemouth at Elland Road.
The home supporters were in buoyant mood when Rodrigo’s early penalty put their side ahead, but Bournemouth responded well and Leeds were lucky to only trail 2-1 at the break.
Jesse Marsch must have feared the worst when Dominic Solanke increased the visitors’ lead three minutes into the second half, but his players hit back in extraordinary fashion to seal a memorable victory.
Three points at Liverpool last weekend gave the Leeds boss some breathing space after a poor run of form, and he deserves huge credit for guiding his team to back-to-back wins. His substitutions against Bournemouth made the difference – Wilfried Gnonto and Sam Greenwood completely transformed the game in the second half.
Marsch celebrated with his players on the pitch at full-time as fireworks lit up the West Yorkshire sky. Leeds might be frustrating at times under the American, but their never-say-die attitude is admirable. This result can kick-start their season.
Problems in defence for Bournemouth
Before losing to local rivals Southampton last month, Bournemouth’s Gary O’Neil was the only boss with an unbeaten record in the Premier League after replacing Scott Parker on an interim basis at the end of August.
But following a run of six games without defeat, the Cherries have now lost four in a row. Their previous win stretches back to October 8.
Losing matches is a concern, but what O’Neil will be more worried about is how his side are letting healthy leads slip. Bournemouth were 2-0 up against Tottenham last weekend before losing 3-2. They were 3-1 up against Leeds before losing 4-3.
In those two games combined, last season’s Championship runners-up scored five goals and registered 15 shots. Their attack is not a problem. Their defence is. They have already conceded 32 goals this term, the most in the Premier League.
Next Saturday’s home game against Everton is their final fixture before the World Cup. The winter tournament could come at a good time for O’Neil. He will surely look to use the break to figure out how to improve his backline.
Gibbs-White paying back his sizeable transfer fee
Nottingham Forest forking out £42.5m on Morgan Gibbs-White raised a few eyebrows in the summer.
The 22-year-old had impressed in the Championship, but was unproven in the Premier League.
On Saturday’s showing in the 2-2 draw with Brentford, Forest boss Steve Cooper was right to invest in the attacking midfielder and give him a chance in the top flight.
Gibbs-White’s goal showcased his strength and skill as he kept three Brentford defenders at bay before finding the bottom corner with the help of a deflection.
Everything Forest created went through Gibbs-White at the City Ground. He had more shots on target (3), touches in the opposition box (8) and chances created (3) than anyone on the pitch.
At his relatively young age, Gibbs-White is still unpolished in moments but his energy is infectious and his talent will be key to keeping Forest afloat in the Premier League relegation scrap.
De Zerbi’s Brighton are getting better
Brighton left it late to beat Wolves 3-2 with Pascal Gross’ winner coming in the 83rd minute of a second half that was a struggle at times as they tried to break down a Wolves side scrapping for the point. But for periods of the first half this was seriously impressive.
Roberto De Zerbi called this the best performance Brighton have produced since he arrived – better even than the magnificent 4-1 win over Graham Potter’s Chelsea last time out. The way they pulled Wolves around early on just oozed class and quality.
His team are playing with confidence and belief but there is also a sophistication to their work. De Zerbi switched formation during the game, changing the build-up. Again, he used Gross as a full-back but with this Brighton side it always feels more fluent than that.
Adam Lallana is rolling back the years. Kaoru Mitoma, another remarkable recruitment find, has it all ahead of him. Maybe Brighton do too. Wolves have come closer than most to cracking the elite in recent seasons. The best of the rest are now De Zerbi’s Brighton.
Lopetegui has work to do at Wolves
Julen Lopetegui is watching the games, watching the training sessions and sending his staff to Wolverhampton to familiarise themselves with the club before his arrival. What he and they will find is a club in dire need of his direction as they lurch towards the break.
Wolves showed plenty of spirit in their 3-2 defeat to Brighton before the 10 men finally succumbed to a late goal but it was bluster rather than anything more coherent that carried them that far. Even interim head coach Steve Davis recognised that much.
He spoke afterwards of a squad that lacks balance and needs to add quality in key areas. Up front, of course, despite two goals against Brighton, but in defence too where wing-backs have had to become full-backs following the formation change and been found lacking.
Davis made the point that the players need someone to stamp their philosophy on the club once more. Lopetegui has the pedigree to be that man. At Wolves, he has some of the players too. But this was the latest reminder that there is much work for him to do.