A quick look at the deal bringing Shaun Maloney to Aberdeen (subject to a medical) and where Derek McInnes could look to strengthen next.
Even at 34, he should have enough left in the tank to leave a positive impression, even if it is for only one season. Unless his skills have completely dropped off a cliff, this is still a player who was good enough to play ten games in the English Premier League last season, which is not something you can say of many other players coming into Scottish football these days.
Injury problems and his advancing years are a concern, especially for an attacking midfielder, but the additions of Greg Stewart and Ryan Christie, with Kenny McLean already in residence, means there’s enough squad depth not to rely upon him to play every single game.
He’s a technically gifted, intelligent player and should fit right into the way Aberdeen operate. What’s more, he’s a set-piece specialist. One aspect overlooked amid the devastation of the Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn departures was the loss of the pair’s set-piece deliveries. In Maloney and Stewart, they now have two perfectly capable replacements in that regard.
So, with that deal in the bag, where else do they need to strengthen?
Replacing Hayes and McGinn was a must, but it wasn’t the only pressing need Aberdeen had going into this summer. They’ve needed to get better in central defence for a while now and it’s not really happened. Anthony O’Connor looked good when he first arrived, but by the end of last season Ash Taylor was once again the preferred choice alongside Mark Reynolds, who still doesn’t look the player he was back in 2015. Now that Taylor’s gone, the need for reinforcement at the position is even more pressing. Everything else is great about Aberdeen’s squad, even following the loss of the aforementioned wingers, but the centre-back issue is a cloud that’s hung around for too long.
Slight contradiction here, though I’ll explain why. Though Stewart, Maloney and Christie are great replacements for Hayes and McGinn, they’re not exactly the same sort of wide players. McGinn was someone who did like to attack inside, like Stewart does, but there was a subtlety to the way he did it. McGinn drifts; Stewart cuts. Besides, both McGinn and Hayes were more out-and-out wingers, capable of whipping in a barrage of crosses from wide positions every game for Adam Rooney to attack.
If McInnes wants to go with a similar gameplan again next season, then he better find himself a natural winger to provide such ammunition. Hayes and McGinn were two of the most high volume crossers of the ball in Scottish football. It’s unlikely we’ll say the same of Christie and Stewart.
He could turn to young Scott Wright and let him off the leash. The 19-year-old is an old fashioned sort of winger in the Hayes mould. But McInnes has often been reticent to give young players any great responsibility within the first-team squad throughout his tenure so far, and it remains to be seen whether he’ll trust Wright to be a 30+ game player.
Perhaps that was the old gameplan and McInnes is currently fashioning a new one. Perhaps the wide players in the team’s 4-2-3-1 will play much narrower and act as supporting strikers rather than wingers, feeding off the frontman. The only problem is that doesn’t suit Adam Rooney. The gluttonous goal-getter relies on service. He can create chances for himself by using his instinct around the penalty box, but he’s not much cop at holding up play.
If the wingers are going to be playing closer to goal and concentrating on scoring rather than assisting, they’ll need someone to feed off. Jayden Stockley can perform this role, but if this is the new Plan A, it’d be a huge gamble to go into an entire season relying on the ex-Bournemouth striker to play consistently enough to make the No.9 role his own.
The pursuit of Stevie May is interesting, and would suggest McInnes is perhaps working on building a new system entirely, as the current model wouldn’t really suit his strengths either.
Maloney’s addition probably negates the need for this, as it’ll allow McLean to drop back into the defensive midfielder role when they’ll need cover for the (presumed) starting pair of Graeme Shinnie and Greg Tansey. However, while this writer feels Tansey adds more balance to the Dons midfield than Ryan Jack, there will be times when they miss the defector’s composure and ability to keep possession ticking over. After all, that’s how McInnes likes his team to win, by dominating the football. It’s unlikely they’ll spend a chunk of the budget on such a player when they’re pretty set at the position, but the Aberdeen boss would probably rest easier if he did manage to recruit a diet-Ryan Jack.