Maloney -- the key to promotion

Posted by Tony Brown

Matthew Lewis/Getty ImagesShaun Maloney had eight assists and scored six goals last season in the Premier League with Wigan.

Who was the best "playmaker" in the Premier League last season? Big names from big clubs quickly come to mind: Juan Mata, David Silva, Santi Cazorla, Eden Hazard, Wayne Rooney, to name but a few.

The name of Shaun Maloney probably would not even get a mention from the majority of football fans outside Wigan. Playing for a struggling team and often pushed into a wide role, it was not easy for Maloney to compete for public attention with those more illustrious names as a top playmaker.

A successful playmaker not only helps dictate the flow of his team's game, but also creates goal opportunities for others. He is also expected to score goals too.

Last season Maloney made eight assists in the league, the same as Silva and not far behind Rooney (10), Cazorla and Hazard (11) and Mata (12). He scored six goals, which was more than Silva, but a few less than the others.

Playmakers typically receive a lot of attention from opposing defenders who want to stem the flow of play. Interestingly enough, Maloney suffered 89 fouls last year, compared with 79 by Hazard. The others lag well behind on the fouls suffered: Cazorla (50), Mata (35), Silva (28) and Rooney with a mere 18.

Those who know Maloney's play will not be surprised. He has been the chief creative force for Wigan for the past couple of seasons. He is the player the opposition most want to stop because if they don't, he is going to have a major impact on the game. Despite the physical attention he received from opposing defences and being injury-prone throughout much of his previous career, Maloney started in 34 of the 38 league matches last season.

Maloney was Wigan Athletic's best player last season and without him they would have almost certainly not have maintained their Premier League status the season before. His introduction into the starting lineup lifted a struggling team into an amazing end-of-season run.

Owen Coyle has almost completed the building of a squad that can take Latics back into the Premier League. He is still lacking in defence and could use at least one more striker. He has adjusted the tactical system to a more orthodox system, with a back four protected by a holding midfield player immediately in front of them and two other central midfield players pushed further forward. The front line consists of a lone centre forward and two wide players.

Up to this point, Maloney has been used wide, with the ability to move inside when needed. Although he can be effective as a wide player, the Scot is better employed in a more central attacking midfield role.

It remains to be seen whether Coyle is willing to sacrifice one of the three holding midfielders to put Maloney into that role. He is more likely to start with Maloney nominally playing wide, bringing on another wide player later in the game and enabling Maloney to play a more central role, if he needs a more attacking approach.

Maloney is now 30 years old and playing at his peak. He will terrorise Championship defences providing he receives due protection from referees. He suffered five fouls already in the season opener at Barnsley. Although Coyle's team are going to be more direct in approach than those of the Martinez era, we are still going enjoy champagne football if Maloney is running the show.

Maloney is one of the most underrated of playmakers in the English game. He is technically gifted, intelligent, makes goals and scores them. Moreover he does not shirk his defensive duties and works hard for his team. His name would be one of the first that many of us would pencil in first on the Latics team sheet.

One hopes that Coyle will use this prized asset wisely. He could be the key towards regaining that Premier League place.

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