Match Preview – Peterborough v Sunderland – Peterborough’s Front Three

Peterborough started the season slowly losing their first three games, however they have bounced back ahead of Sunderland’s trip to the Weston Homes Stadium, earning a credible draw against leaders Ipswich, before two comprehensive away wins against Southend (2-0) and MK Dons (4-0), where Marcus Maddison in particular has stood out.

One of the standout players outside of the top two English leagues, Maddison has been consistently linked with moves away from Peterborough, particularly with Sunderland over the last two transfer windows. He has once again started this season brilliantly, already racking up five assists and a wonder strike to his name, and is building up a potentially devastating relationship to League One defences with forwards Mohamed Eisa and Ivan Toney.


25-year-old Maddison started his career at Newcastle United, before getting his first taste of senior action in a loan move to Blyth Spartans in 2012. A brief move north of the border to St Johnstone followed, before he returned to the North East at National League Premier Gateshead. It didn’t take long for him to be noticed at this level, and after 9 goals in his first season and 4 in the opening 5 games of the 2014/15 season, he moved to Peterborough. Since then, he has been consistently one of the stand out players in League One, and it is surprising to many that he is still playing at this level.

2019/20 Season:

Maddison’ is utilised best when playing as an attacking midfielder, where his playmaking ability stand out, and the system Darren Ferguson is currently employing appears to be getting the best out of him.

Line Up v Southend (2-0):                                    

Line Up v MK Dons (4-0):

It is Maddison’s effectiveness on the ball this season which is particularly impressive. Afforded a license in behind the two strikers due to the solid nature of the three across the midfield, he has been able to rack up five assists and a goal in the opening five league games.

Across these games, he has been averaging 2.6 key passes a game, and whilst his passing statistics don’t look fantastic at first reading (58% pass accuracy), it is more to do with the role he is being asked to play. With less emphasis than previously on his defensive role (0.4 tackles p/g and 0.2 interceptions p/g), he has been able to pick the ball up higher in the pitch, and as a result impact games where his talent really matters. Despite only making 17 passes per game on average, 10 of these are coming in the opposition’s half. He is being trusted in his ability to create as shown by the assists against Southend (covered below), with both being excellent long-range passes. Whilst these don’t always come off (evident by the low pass percentage), it is what he has been asked to do rather than retain the ball, and giving him this license to create, alongside the free role he has been given, is helping turn Peterborough into an attacking force.

Loving to drift between the lines of the opposition midfield and defence, his effectiveness when getting the ball in these areas is best showcased by his goal against MK Dons.

Here, due to the free role he has been afforded, Maddison escaped the attention of both the midfielders and defenders. Able to turn and shoot, his excellent finishing ability was showcased by scoring from the situation below.

His free role was epitomised against Southend, as he was able to drift out wide, once again making him difficult to pick up. It was here he was able to find the space (below), before delivering a cross from deep for Eisa to finish.

For Peterborough’s second goal, he once again found space but this time on the opposite flank, once again delivering a fantastic cross in for Toney to finish (below). This shows the importance of giving Maddison a free role, and why he is a nightmare for League One defenders to deal with.

The creation of the space in front of the back four is also helped by the two centre forwards Eisa and Toney. Both pacey strikers, the defenders are wary of stepping up and compacting the play to mark Maddison as it will leave space in behind for Toney and Eisa to exploit. However, dropping off leaves a much bigger space for Maddison to utilise his playmaking ability, and thus making it extremely hard to defend against.

The decision to play a narrow three across midfield is also helping Maddison find pockets of space out wide, as opposition full backs have the decision to make whether to drift inside to deal with the three, or let the ball move out wide into their position. If they don’t move narrower, the midfield can get overloaded, however if they do, it creates more space for the likes of Maddison, Toney and Eisa, as well as allowing space for Peterborough’s full backs to press on.

Eisa and Toney have begun to hit form at the start of this season, scoring 4 goals each, and it is expected that this total will only continue to grow throughout the season. If a team is to be effective against Peterborough, they need to find a way to stop the supply into Maddison, whilst also not being caught out in behind by the Peterborough forward line. A particularly tough front three to defend against, Peterborough are priming themselves well for a promotion push this season.

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