Is Maloney central in Rosler’s plans?

Shaun Maloney

Will Shaun Maloney have a major role to play this season?

They say that every new manager likes to bring in his own men. Owen Coyle brought in ten new players at the start of last season. He had little choice than to do otherwise, with twelve members of the senior squad players having left following relegation, together with the  need for a large squad due to the extra matches involved in Europa League participation.

Only two of Coyle’s recruits – Scott Carson and James Perch – started in the Huddersfield game on Tuesday. Five of that starting lineup were new, signed by Uwe Rosler over the past couple of months. Two of the starters – Rob Kiernan and Ivan Ramis – were signed by Roberto Martinez. The other two were Callum McManaman  and Emmerson Boyce. McManaman joined the club as a 16 year old in 2007. The evergreen Boyce was signed by Paul Jewell in 2006.

Given that he already had a large squad, inherited from Coyle, how was Rosler going to make space to bring in his own players?

Rosler started by trying to sell Ivan Ramis in January, but both Cardiff City and Crystal Palace backed out of possible deals on medical grounds. However, by selling Nouha Dicko to Wolves and loaning Grant Holt to Newcastle, he was able to bring in a handful of loan players over the next few months. Of those only Martyn Waghorn remains, having signed a permanent contract in April.

Over the summer Jean Beausejour and Jordi Gomez left at the ends of their contracts. Stephen Crainey was released, together with Jordan Mustoe and Danny Redmond. Juan Carlos Garcia was farmed out to Tenerife on loan. James McArthur was sold to Crystal Palace.

In the space of ten months and despite the obstacles to doing so, Rosler has managed to bring in ten of his own men. However, he now needs to reduce his now-inflated squad by sending players out on loan. They appear to include not only Grant Holt, but also Roger Espinoza, Fraser Fyvie and Marc-Antoine Fortune. The Championship loan market is open to mid-November. The latter three players are in the final year of their contracts at the club, so a loan move would signal that they are no longer in the manager’s future plans.

Wigan Athletic lost three key players over the summer. In Beausejour, Gomez and McArthur Latics had players with considerable technical ability who could play the passing game. There has been a considerable amount of debate among fans in recent weeks about the type of football Latics have been playing this season, which has seemed to alternate between the possession football typical of the Martinez era and the long ball of the Coyle reign. Do Latics still have players to play that passing game effectively?

It has been a difficult start to the season for Rosler, not only with having so many new players to settle in, but also due to fitness issues. Too many players have been physically ill-prepared to compete on an even keel with opposing teams. New players invariably need time to gel with their teammates, but the lack of a clearly defined style of play has made it even more difficult for them. The style of play espoused by the manager –  high pressing, high tempo, with rapid movement – is light years away from what we have seen up to this point. Goals have been given away by sloppy defending and goal opportunities have so often been wasted. But more than anything else it is the lack of creativity that has stood out.

Rosler clearly has faith in his recent signing, Adam Forshaw, in being able to provide a creative spark in midfield. Forshaw did it to great effect at Brentford and Rosler will be banking on him doing the same at Wigan. In recent matches Emyr Huws has provided much of that spark, but he is only 19 years old and needs time. However, if you were to ask a room full of Latics fans who is the best bet for a creative midfield role, the name of Shaun Maloney would surely be their typical response. However, is Maloney in Rosler’s plans? If so, is there room for both he and Forshaw? In what position would Maloney be employed?

Without doubt the best football Wigan Athletic have ever played was in the final part of the 2012-13 season and in the FA Cup triumph in 2013-14. The common theme was that it was based on a 3-4-3 system. There were two central, holding midfield players, who linked up with the wing backs on each side to make a strong middle line. The front three consisted of a centre forward (Di Santo/Kone), a mobile wide player/striker (Moses/McManaman) and typically Shaun Maloney. When Latics were under pressure the wing backs would retreat to make a back five, but they would supply the front three when they moved forward. Sometimes Maloney would be played wide on the left, but he was most effective when playing an advanced midfield role in the “hole” behind the centre forward. If anybody made the side tick it was he.

Martinez had switched from a flat back four system in that 2012-13 season, after his defence had been leaking goals. 3-4-3 became his preferred shape. Maloney had a key role as the playmaker. In the memorable 2-1 victory at Arsenal, Jordi Gomez played in Maloney’s place and had a fine game. However, having the two on the field at the same time rarely worked. Will also be the case with Maloney and Forshaw this season?

Rosler also plays a system with a back line of three defenders. He labels it 3-5-2. His midfield consists of the wing backs plus three more central midfielders. Some fans say that the system is too defensive, with a back line of five shielded by three central midfielders, leaving only two players up front. However, at Huddersfield Huws played a more advanced midfield role than the other two central midfielders, Cowie and Kvist. At times it looked more like 3-4-3 than 3-5-2.

Rosler’s 3-5-2 system is inherently defensive only if the wing backs and the three central midfielders do not get forward to support the attack. To be fair on the manager he is to be seen frequently urging his team forward from his touchline position. However, far too often this season the lone centre forward has been starved of good service and left without support from the midfield. Adverse results have surely played a part in the players’ minds, being reluctant to commit themselves forward for fear of an opposition counterattack. The fitness issue is also surely a factor. Confidence has a huge part to play. So often the courses of matches are changed when the opposition scores a goal out of the blue or poor refereeing decisions play their part.

Shaun Maloney did not play in the pre-season games but has amassed a total of 115 minutes in the league in four appearances off the bench. He started in the League Cup game at Burton Albion, lasting 60 minutes. He has not been at his best, but his superbly timed slide rule pass for Waghorn’s goal against Birmingham highlighted the talent he possesses.

Maloney proved himself as a top quality Premier League player. But questions remain, if at 31 years of age and after a major hip operation, he will ever get back to where he was. At his best and playing in his favourite position in the centre of midfield, he would be an outstanding performer in the Championship.

Is there room for both Maloney and Forshaw in the same team? If so will Maloney be consigned to wide position?

Let’s see what happens over these coming weeks.

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