Why Leeds United must challenge Leicester City for key summer transfer target

Leicester City have been linked with Montpellier’s Stephy Mavididi - but Leeds United should be circling the English winger as well.
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A summer of tumult is well underway at the King Power Stadium, as Leicester City slowly lose their brightest and best and plot the best ways to spend their transfer fees to ensure a swift return to the Premier League. James Maddison is gone, and Harvey Barnes will soon follow, with Newcastle United expected to buy the winger in the near future – and that leaves another yawning gap in the Foxes’ squad.

If reports are to be believed, they’re planning to plug that particular gap with Stephy Mavididi – the versatile Montpellier winger who’s just as comfortable playing up front. It looks like a smart move, but one that might make even more sense for one of their immediate competitors. If Leicester are likely to need a player like Mavididi, then Leeds United could need them even more.

Stephy Mavididi has come a long way from loan spells with Preston North End and Charlton Athletic Stephy Mavididi has come a long way from loan spells with Preston North End and Charlton Athletic
Stephy Mavididi has come a long way from loan spells with Preston North End and Charlton Athletic
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A product of Arsenal’s academy, Mavididi moved to Juventus back in 2018 after loan spells with Charlton Athletic and Preston North End – and a couple of years later, having made just one Serie A appearance, he moved to Montpellier. Over the past three seasons the Derby-born player has become the most-capped Englishman in Ligue 1 history (surpassing Chris Waddle) and earned himself a reputation as a fiercely competitive player who is as dangerous in front of goal as he is willing to track back to do his defensive duty.

Having started his career primarily as a striker, Mavididi has gradually moved to a wider and more defensive role – his heat maps show a wideman who practically played as a wing-back while still getting into the box a decent amount of the time. He scored four goals last season for Montpellier – perhaps not much to write home about – but hit nine in 2020/21 and eight the following campaign. Not quite Barnes numbers, but still pretty handy for a player who adds as much positional versatility as he does.

His game differs substantially from Barnes, even if the level of threat he carries ends up being pretty much the same. Where Barnes is outstanding at quick interchanges around the edge of the area but poor with the ball at his feet, Mavididi is the very opposite – a superb dribbler with the pace and technique to take on and beat defenders at will, but not a player who looks for passing opportunities or boasts an especially high success rate. His passing numbers were some of the lowest in the big five leagues last campaign among wide players.

Another big difference between Mavididi and Barnes is their defensive qualities. Mavididi is a workhorse and the first man to bust a lung to get back when needed to shore up the defence, with impressive numbers for tackles and blocked passes. In other words, he offers plenty in all three thirds – a virtue that should put him high up quite a few clubs’ shopping lists.

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The Englishman – who played through the age groups up to the Under-20s but is also qualified to play for Republic of the Congo – has one year remaining on his Montpellier contract and that seems to be spurring the transfer bidding. He signed from Juve for €6.3m and isn’t likely to cost too much more than that for his next club given how close he is to a free departure.

So it’s obvious why Leicester would be interested – they’re losing Barnes and need a replacement, and at the level of the second tier it’s hard to imagine doing any better than Mavididi. But Leeds’ need may be even more dire, given the likely departures of so many wide forwards. Jack Harrison, Daniel James, Willy Gnonto, Patrick Bamford and Luis Sinisterra are all rumoured to be seeking a way out of Elland Road, and that could leave Leeds’ front line badly depleted.

 Mavididi has previously been capped extensively at youth level for England.  Mavididi has previously been capped extensively at youth level for England.
Mavididi has previously been capped extensively at youth level for England.

Given that Mavididi can play wide left, striker or even as a left wing-back, he can plug multiple holes for Leeds at the same time, and give them some sorely needed flexibility as they rebuild the squad. While Leicester won’t turn their nose up at that same flexibility, they are likely to retain more depth in the final third. Their need for a player like Mavididi is substantial. Leeds’ could well be dire.

Of course, Leeds’ transfer business is being held up by the protracted takeover by 49ers Enterprises. The deal still hasn’t been ratified by the EFL, with the hold-up largely unexplained. Until the new owners are in place, transfer business is on hold, and that gives Leicester a chance to get their hands on players like Mavididi and Joël Piroe while one of their few direct competitors in terms of financial clout in the Championship are left twiddling their thumbs.

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Not that they seem to be taking that chance. Leicester are dawdling somewhat – or players are waiting for Leeds and other clubs to come in with their offers – and the result could be some fascinating transfer showdowns between two teams with the resources to challenge for immediate promotion, but a lot of decisions to make about how to rebuild their squads. If the price is right, one of those decisions should certainly be making a serious bid for Mavididi’s services, and not taking too long about it.

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