Mikkel Maigaard played his youth football with local Danish clubs Varde IF and Esbjerg fB. After a year in Danish amateur football, he travelled to Icelandic ÍBV, followed by a stint at Norwegian second-tier team Raufoss.
Last season, he went to the Norwegian Eliteserien team Strømsgodset where he currently also carries the armband for the Drammen-based club, captaining players such as Jonathan Parr, formerly of EPL side Crystal Palace and EFL Championship side Ipswich Town, as well as Duplexe Tchamba, who is on loan with Strømsgodset from Ligue 1 side Strasbourg.
Role in Strømsgodset
Strømsgodset plays a high-pressing style where Maigaard plays on the left of a flexible midfield trio. After coach Henrik Pedersen took over last season, they have had a gradual development towards an aggressive press, quick attacking transitions, and a methodical build-up from the back.
PPDA (passes per defensive action) is a measurement often used to paint a picture of how aggressive a team press and Strømsgodset have the lowest PPDA in Eliteserien, 8.29. Maigaard plays a crucial role in this system as a dynamic midfielder who presses aggressively and creates chances for his teammates. As seen on the heatmap below, he does this mostly from the left flank in the opponents’ half.
In possession, Strømsgodset often seeks to make use of the flanks. They do this mainly in two ways, and Maigaard is an important part of both. He will, as shown in the heatmap above, often venture out on the left flank. There he can create situational overloads with the winger and full-back.
Through these moves, he often ends up with the ball close to the line for a cut-back or opens space up for teammates in the half-space. In the image below, one of his typical runs behind from deep drags the opponent with him and the winger can cut inside.
The other way Strømsgodset often makes use of the flanks is to pack the middle of the field and leave the flanks open. Then a full-back, or sometimes a wide central midfielder, will receive a long ball and be in a 1 v 1 with the opponent’s full-back. Here, Maigaard often allows this to happen through moving in behind the midfield line, staying in the channel between the full-back and centre-back. This creates a dilemma for who presses/marks, and as a result, narrows the shape and leaves space on the flanks.
Maigaard is an integral part of how Strømsgodset progresses their play and play through the opponents. When looking at selected individual passing statistics, he is in the top third for xGchain/90 and progressive passes/90. This would suggest a player highly involved in breaking through the lines of the opponent.
That said, he often stays quite high in the build-up and against a balanced defence, then situationally dropping to receive and further progress play. This might suggest that he is adept at finding open space to receive the ball between the lines.
The picture below supports this. Here he is showing for the ball (even though he is in the cover shadow of the defender) and has a lot of time to turn if he were to get the ball with the inside option.
This is, again, aided by the two strikers pinning two players each, creating a dilemma as to who pushes out to cope with Maigaard. In the situation, however, he doesn’t get the ball. The move continues in a long ball to the player on the flank, barely visible on the left of the photo.
It is not uncommon to find Maigaard in these areas, a good reason to why he is one of the most creative central midfielders in Eliteserien so far. An xA of 4.50 further supports this as the highest compared to those in the same position.
In addition to this, Maigaard has set-piece responsibility and is the penalty taker for Strømsgodset. This has contributed to his high 5.64 xG (1.14 non-penalty xG) this season. It has also aided in his impressive 9 goals, 11 assists, and 8 second-assists in the 31 games he has played for the club since his transfer one year ago.
In effect of Strømsgodset having the lowest PPDA in the league, Maigaard often defends deep in the opponents’ half. Where he excels is in the final third where he has an impressive 2.47 ball recoveries per 90. Many of these are directly through counter-pressing situations, which will be closer explored in the following section.
What is then interesting to look at is his success rate in defensive duels so far this season. It stands at 45.59%, which is among the worst numbers for central midfielders in Eliteserien (second-worst of players with more than 500 minutes).
Looking at the following two photos, there are a couple of situations that Maigaard often finds himself in. The first one is in the opponent’s half, forward defending. In the second he is backwards defending, and his lack of acceleration and/or awareness gets exposed.
Here, Maigaard can forward defend as mentioned and he is successful in such sense as the centre-back is forced into a clearance. Before the screenshot is taken, he has come from the left side and forced the defender inwards. Following that, he curves his run to keep the central midfielder in the central channel in his cover-shadow (see yellow-coloured area).
In the second part of the photo set, we can see his shortcomings in his 1 v 1 defending mentioned above when he is forced to defend backwards. In the first photo, his pass attempt has just been cut off. He then takes a long time to transition into defence (more about that later), ends up on the back foot and misses, and results in an interception. This results in a 2 v 2 for the opponent.
Previously in this scout report, numbers compared to other midfielders and images showed that Maigaard is an excellent player in counter-pressing for Strømsgodset when he can defend forward. A good example of his skills in this phase of the game can be seen here:
Here, Maigaard has just attempted a pass towards a dropping striker which is intercepted by the opponent full-back. This exact moment is where Maigaard’s forward defending skills in transition are shown. He recognises quickly the ball path after the interception while also the big, open space that has appeared by the opponent full-back pushing out. Because of his attuned awareness, he plays the pass with his first touch.
When Strømsgodset have an attacking transition, Maigaard often plays long diagonal balls towards the right flank. He rarely dribbles, and rarely passes laterally or backwards unless the attacking transitions have its origin in the final third. This makes sense as there is naturally less space to pass forward behind the opponents’ line.
The moment an attacking transition is initiated, the team losing possession is generally in poor positional balance. This is an excellent time to attack space, something Maigaard seems to subconsciously understand. This is based on the explained decision-making he does when he is in his half and when in the opponents’ half or the final third. This skill set fits in well when he is playing in a team that incorporates aggressive pressing as such a vital part of their game.
A big strength in Maigaard’s game alongside his pressing is the way he creates many good chances for his teammates. Cut-backs are an excellent way of creating good chances as onrushing defenders will have a hard time clearing away and blocking.
Maigaard takes advantage of this fact often in his final third play against his opponents. As explained in the attacking phase section, he makes deep runs into the channel between the full-back and centre-back. This is especially evident when he does this coming from the left flank towards the right channel it results in dangerous attacks.
This exact situation happens above with Maigaard running through the channel and the opponent centre midfielder not following his move. This is something that often is initiated through good non-verbal communication between Maigaard and his striker. In the second part of the photoset, the resulting assist he recorded in the 1-1 game against Brann is marked.
Room for improvement
A shortcoming for Maigaard presents itself when Strømsgodset build attacks in their half. Especially when the centre-back on Maigaard’s side has the ball, it is evident he has room for improvement in his positioning in build-up play.
In the first image below, with the stated situation in focus, Maigaard is positioned high up in the field. He is standing between the opponent’s midfield and defensive line while using his body language to ask for the ball from his centre-back. This is a 20 to 25-metre pass through two lines of opponent pressure, an incredibly hard pass against a balanced defence.
The defensive midfielder is in the cover-shadow of the opponent striker, and the opponent right-winger is anticipating a pass to the full-back. The centre-back realistically only has one option, to turn around and play to his keeper. He chooses to play to the full-back which results in a turnover and a dangerous attack against them.
How could Maigaard have made the situations easier for his centre-back and other teammates? When the centre-back has pressure (as he is in this scenario) he needs to come deeper and show, then the centre-back will see him as a realistic option. Then they will have a 4 v 2 situation deeper in the build-up and a greater possibility of being successful.
The second example is from a different situation higher in the field, though still in the build-up. The ball is played from the centre-back (visible in the bottom right) to the left full-back who receives unpressured. He can then approach the opponent winger and exploit a 2 v 1 with Maigaard who is in space. Maigaard runs towards the sideline behind the winger, eliminating the 2 v 1.
This is because the run attracts the attention of the opponent full-back. This then leaves the Strømsgodset full-back with no other options than a back pass or to cut into an area with numerical superiority for the opponent and no clear options. He chooses to pass it back and restart the attack.
Another decision Maigaard could have chosen here to get more out of the situation is to stay in the white area. Here, he is in a lot of space and can use the 2 v 1 to make several favourable scenarios happen.
The first option – he can initiate a combination with the left full-back. Play a one-two to get through on a 1 v 1 with the opponent full-back and maybe get a cross in where they potentially could have 4 players to meet it.
The second option – the full-back could use the fact that he is facing forward and can create a dynamic superiority towards the direct opponent. Then they can play a potential cut-back to Maigaard. The third option for Maigaard could be to receive the ball and turn in space. In this scenario, he has plenty of further options. For example, a one-two with the ball-near striker or a through ball to his teammate in the 10-position.
All in all, Maigaard is an excellent player for an aggressive and pressing mid-table team in Eliteserien. His strong points are valuable for most teams above as well, but for him to take the eventual next step towards the bigger teams or a move abroad, he will need to improve his movement and positioning in the build-up.
This is crucial if he aims to be part of an attack that needs to be effective in possession when meeting smaller clubs. He has other strengths and weaknesses too, of course. Relative to the team he plays in and the potential next steps to take, my opinion based on the stats and visuals presented in this scout report, is that this is the most relevant.