You can never be sure after the last couple of transfer windows, but it does seem a pretty safe bet that Riyad Mahrez, perhaps the most talented Leicester City player ever, will be moving on this summer.
In doing so, he will leave a hole on the right hand side of Claude Puel’s starting XI that many would like to see filled with the marquee signing of an established premier league talent like Xherdan Shaqiri. But has his replacement already arrived?
As a young boy my dream was always to play in the premier league! Now I have the opportunity to make my dream come true and I can’t wait to get started at this fantastic football club! Delighted to be here and looking forward to meeting all of you @LCFC pic.twitter.com/iKpqZSw4u9— James Maddison (@Madders10) June 20, 2018
The newest Fox James Maddison, who arrived this week from Norwich City for a fee in the region of £22m, has played almost exclusively through the middle in his career so far, so he’s by no means a direct, like-for-like switch. But surely the most important thing is to replicate the skills Mahrez brought to the field, rather than the position he used them from.
The tricky Algerian’s role was always pretty clear: create as many goalscoring opportunities as possible, for himself or others. All of our managers have tried to enforce some semblance of defensive responsibilities too, but first and foremost it was always about being the Foxes’ primary playmaker.
Whatever number you call it, he is an attacking footballer who is going to drive the game forward. He creates and scores goals. He is exciting.” Maddison’s former coach tells the Leicester Mercury
Based on what we’ve seen so far, that’s absolutely the role you’d expect Maddison to fill. Just like Mahrez, the England under 21 international lead his team in assists and in chances created last season.
The standard of the Championship is obviously lower, but so were Maddison’s numbers relatively higher. His 2.8 key passes per game particularly stand out, especially for a player who also lead his team in scoring with 14 goals. He may not quite have the lightning fast, penalty winning feet that Riyad does (I’m sure anyone measures up there), but he’s still very capable running with the ball.
The shape will change slightly, with the most creative player moving from one side to a more orthodox central position, but Maddison can absolutely replace Mahrez’s role within the team. Meanwhile, whoever ends up on the right will bring something else - perhaps the defensive tenacity that Shinji Okazaki brought to the number 10 role before.
Just today the Foxes have been linked with a genuine winger who could take that role, Mohamed Elyounoussi of Basel, but it wouldn't shock me so much if we decided to stand with the wingers already in the squad.
They might sound a little short relying on just Marc Albrighton, Demarai Gray and Fousseni Diabté out wide, but remember that team went into last year with just Mahrez, Albrighton and Gray, and struggled to find time for the younger players once a fourth winger was signed. With Harvey Barnes they always have another option that could be drafted in if required by injury.