James Maddison gives Gareth Southgate reason to start him for England in Euros qualifiers
The afternoon at the Gletch Community Stadium began with Ivan Toney greeted by a typically effusive roar. Yet, for all the focus upon Toney, it was the other player in this match who was named in Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad who proved altogether more influential. James Maddison's adroitness ensured that Leicester left with a point that they will savour altogether more than Brentford.
When he was substituted in the final minute, Maddison was met by boos from the home crowd. With his impish air, Maddison is the sort of footballer who can invite such reactions; he grinned, unperturbed, and was congratulated by a grateful Brendon Rogers.
Perhaps Maddison’s penchant for histrionics - he was booked in the first half and, as stand-in captain with Jonny Evans injured, enjoyed a regular back-and-forth with the referee - can occasionally obscure what a terrific footballer he has become. Since the start of last season's Premier League, he has contributed 36 goals or assists; of the six men above him, Toney stands alone as not playing for one of the big six clubs.
At the Community Stadium, after Leicester had fallen behind to Mathias Jensen’s deflected left-footed shot in the first half, Maddison brought a sense of control in a slightly chaotic game. He has an instinct for finding space like a moth for finding light.
In the 52nd minute, Maddison found another of his cherished unguarded pockets, in between the opposition’s defence and midfield, and bisected Brentford’s backline with a perfectly weighted pass. Harvey Barnes then dinked the ball past David Raya to score his ninth Premier League goal of the season.
“He’s competitive - that’s what you want,” Rogers said of Maddison. “He sees the game inside the game really, really well.
“He's always ready for that moment and the pass was sublime, the weight of pass. A great run by Barnes. We counter-pressed in the moment really well - we won the ball back, we were tenacious, got bodies around the ball.”
The pass continued Maddison’s fine record against Brentford. Five years ago, while visiting Brentford’s old stadium with Norwich, he thumped the game’s lone goal from 30 yards; then, naturally, he celebrated in front of the home fans.
This performance will encourage Southgate to allow Maddison to add to his lone England appearance in 2019, in the looming European Championship qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine.
Yet the other man on display in the England squad had an altogether more difficult day. Toney struggled to match Maddison’s impact directly in front of goal - “with Ivan you’ve got to be aggressive,” Rogers explained of his side’s plans, with Harry Souttar and Daniel Amartey impressing as a makeshift centre-back pair.
But the afternoon still provided a reminder of Toney’s wider qualities. He dropped deep to link up with team-mates; his very presence created space for Bryan Mbeumo and Yoane Wissa. At times Toney even drifted to the right-hand side, especially after Kevin Schade - whose potential and initial impact at Brentford has been reflected in a maiden Germany call-up - came on.
Leicester's second-half resolve fully merited their draw, ending a run of four consecutive Premier League defeats; at full time, Rogers gave a cautionary thumbs up to supporters, some of whom brought in a banner calling for him to be sacked after the 90 minutes. But Brentford’s point was less helpful in furthering their hopes of continuing their push to a first-ever season of European football; substitute Shandon Baptiste’s late red cards, for two bookable offences, exacerbated the hosts' imperfect day.