Talking Tactics

Why Smith must trust Maddison and Barnes

By Adrian Clarke 28 May 2023
LEI-MADDISON-BARNES-TT

Adrian Clarke highlights the pair's importance to the Foxes for the vital match against West Ham

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in the final day of the relegation battle.

Player analysis - MaddisonBarnes

Dean Smith’s decision to sacrifice James Maddison and Harvey Barnes to use a defensive back five in Leicester City’s goalless draw at Newcastle United made them hard to beat. But, fitness permitting, the pair will surely return in Sunday's huge encounter against West Ham United.

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To preserve their place in the Premier League, the 2015/16 champions must beat West Ham at King Power Stadium, and hope that Everton do not pick up maximum points against AFC Bournemouth.

See: Relegation battle: What each club need

Maddison and Barnes have been far and away Leicester's best attackers this season.

The former has 10 goals and nine assists, while Barnes is their leading scorer on 12 goals, also providing an assist.

Playing either side of the main centre-forward, they are the Foxes’ best options for quality end product when it matters most - and who gets that spot up front is a huge call for Smith to make on Sunday. 

With none of Leicester’s strikers enjoying the kind of campaign they had hoped for, there has been a reliance on attacking midfielders Barnes and Maddison to deliver.

As shown in the tables below, they break into the box more often than anyone else.

Leicester attacking stats 22/23
Shots on target  Shots in box
Barnes 32 Barnes 54
Maddison 28 Maddison 36
Daka 16 Iheanacho 27
Touches in opp. box  Goals + assists
Barnes 131 Maddison 19
Maddison 102 Barnes 13
Vardy 76 Iheanacho 9

Barnes' pace down the left always makes him a handful. He pushes defenders back, offers penetration and is a major goal threat.

Creatively, Maddison is the key man, feeding 170 passes into the box, the most of any Leicester player, with Youri Tielemans the next best on 94.

Maddison has also produced 68 key passes, 30 more than Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, who is next in the list.

The relegation battle

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
17 Everton EVE 38 -23 36
18 Leicester City LEI 38 -17 34
19 Leeds United LEE 38 -30 31
20 Southampton SOU 38 -37 25
See the full table

Another reason for Smith to base his plan around these two talents is the way they have stepped up in Leicester's victories this season.

Maddison has featured in six of their eight Premier League wins, and in those matches he has produced six goals and four assists.

Wide man Barnes has also been highly influential in those victories, scoring six goals and making another in his seven outings that ended with three points.

They have both made a direct goal contribution in every winning match they have started during this campaign. When they play well, so do the Foxes.

Barnes & Maddison in Leicester's wins
Player Apps Goals Assists
Barnes 7 6 1
Maddison 6 6 4

In their last meeting with the Hammers in November, Maddison and Barnes both scored at London Stadium in an impressive 2-0 away success.

Barnes' goal v West Ham

Tactically, Smith has some big decisions to make ahead of this critical match.

Whether the Leicester manager returns to a back four or sticks with a three-man defence remains to be seen, but his strategic approach will be significantly more attack-minded than it was at St James’ Park.

To win this match he knows that the approach has to suit his two most reliable performers.

If Maddison and Barnes bring their A-game, the Foxes have an excellent chance of claiming the win they need.

Also in this series

Part 1: How Everton can capitalise on set-piece threat

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