With the January window well underway, transfer talk is only intensifying as the Premier League’s big clubs seek a strong end to the season.
Manchester United and Tottenham are among those underperforming giants, struggling in their bids to secure Champions League football next season.
And Wednesday night could prove the perfect audition for two English playmakers, who have been trailed by both sides over the course of the season.
James Maddison and Jack Grealish will go head-to-head in the Carabao Cup this week
Maddison and Grealish are close friends and even went on holiday together last year
Leicester host Aston Villa in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final and it puts two of the most highly-rated youngsters in the Premier League up against each other.
James Maddison and Jack Grealish may be close friends off the pitch, but they will have to put that aside as they go head-to-head in more ways than one at the King Power Stadium.
Their key battle will be one of the leading subplots in what is a crucial two-legged tie for both sides.
Brendan Rodgers is seeking his first major trophy in English football, and one that would mark a hugely successful start to his era at Leicester. Maddison has been a major part of a Foxes side that look set to gatecrash the top four this season and has earned his maiden senior cap for the England team.
Villa, meanwhile, are seeking a first major trophy since 1996, but have another goal in mind. In their first season back in the top flight in four years, it’s survival that takes top priority.
But this individual head-to-head could have ramifications beyond this season for either player. Both look destined for big-money moves in the near future – and this two-legged semi final is the ideal audition for their undoubted talents.
A stellar performance from either player here could lead to a big bid from one of their suitors, possibly even in January.
The onus has been on Villa captain Grealish to lead their hopes of survival this season
Maddison has been a main player in Leicester’s push to finish inside the top four this year
|PREMIER LEAGUE 19-20||JAMES MADDISON||JACK GREALISH|
|Shot Conversion Rate (inc. Blocks)||12||14.63|
|Shots, on Target||14||15|
|Chances Created (inc. assists)||49||52|
|Dribbles Success Rate||60.66||60.94|
|Fouls won final third||16||21|
|Possession Won Final 1/3||12||9|
The pair are friends, having grown up near each other and even holidayed together last summer.
Maddison, 23, said earlier this season ahead of playing Grealish: ‘Jack’s a top player and he’s the main threat. He dictates games and has taken on the responsibility of captain and the main man on his shoulders.
‘We grew up near each other, I was living in Coventry and he’s a wonderful footballer as he’s shown this year.
‘People always compare us but let the pundits and the so-called geniuses get on with that.
‘We just get on with our football and we’re both in good form and loving life.’
Both are certainly in good form, despite the polarising fortunes of both Villa and Leicester. And there is little separating them in the key areas this season.
They have six league goals this season each – but with two more assists it’s Grealish who leads their goal involvement battle.
Grealish takes the ball under pressure from Norwich’s Tom Trybull at Villa Park last month
Maddison looks to get away from Manchester City midfielder Rodri at the Etihad Stadium
He has either assisted or scored every 155 minutes, better than Maddison’s rate of one every 187.
Grealish’s shot-conversion rate is also superior, at nearly 15 per cent, compared to Maddison’s 12.
He has created 52 chances, three more than his Leicester counterpart. His passing accuracy is better, and he has completed two more dribbles.
Grealish’s low centre of gravity and twisting runs have won more fouls in the final third than Maddison, at 21 to 16.
But Maddison’s energy off the ball has seem him win back possession in the final third 12 times, three times more than Grealish has done so.
There really is little to separate them, only the varying qualities of the players around them. Maddison has been a standout of the season for a Leicester side that at one point was flirting with a league title challenge.
Grealish has scored six times for boyhood club Villa in the Premier League this season
Grealish, relegated with Villa back in 2016, has been playing the long game. He helped his boyhood club back into the Premier League through the play-offs at the second time of asking last season and is now the captain leading their bid for survival.
The onus is on him, and in recent weeks he has really come to the fore, particularly in the absence of John McGinn.
His years in the Championship have helped him hone his craft and build up his leadership credentials. At 24 he is surely ready for a big move, and he has certainly done enough to warrant it.
Spurs came close to signing Grealish in recent years, while Manchester United have emerged as potential suitors. The arrival of Jose Mourinho may have put paid to a move to Tottenham, for now.
At United, the seemingly inevitable departure of Paul Pogba may well open up a spot for Grealish. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have lacked creativity, with much of their cutting edge coming from out wide and in forward areas.
They will surely find it easier to snare Grealish than Maddison, who is also being watched closely by most of the biggest Premier League clubs.
Rodgers will be determined to prove to Maddison that he can fulfil his ambitions at the King Power Stadium. On Wednesday night he can take a big step in that direction.
Maddison punches the air after Leicester secured victory over West Ham in December