The Real Madrid player, who will cost a reported £59.7 million, smashing the previous British transfer record, is widely expected to complete a switch to the Premier League before the close of the summer transfer window.
Louis van Gaal is yet to win a competitive match in England, with Sunderland providing the most recent stumbling block. The Red Devils look uninspired and lacklustre in the final third as they failed to convert their possession into chances against Gus Poyet’s men.
Lack of innovation
Playing as a front-line of three at times, Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata received very little service from the central-midfield duo. The trio were regularly seen dropping back from their natural forward positions in order to receive possession – with Juan Mata often playing a deeper role than Tom Cleverley. At half-time the Red Devil's strike-partnership had failed to touch the ball in the opposition box.
COMBINED HEAT MAP: Wayne Rooney & Robin v Persie are yet to register an event in the Sunderland box. You there, lads? pic.twitter.com/5RB8WT9n92— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 24, 2014
The club’s build-up play also proved agonisingly slow at times, and it’s no real surprise that the Red Devils only fashioned five chances. Di Maria will provide the injection of speed that the likes of Mata needs to flourish. This is simply not being supplied by United’s current crop of players, as proven by their most recent display.
Antonio Valencia’s cameo in the first half proved to be one of the few moments of danger throughout the match. The Ecuadorian winger successfully beat his marker before swinging the ball across the face of goal, into Mata’s path. This proved the club’s only clear-cut chance of the match, serving to highlight the need for attacking additions at Old Trafford.
United have looked a very average team since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. In attack they are too comfortable with passing the ball sideways, taking the easy option as they look to maintain possession. Ultimately they have become very predictable and far too easy to defend against.
Once again on Sunday we saw the side reverting to crosses as a last resort; the same tactics that we witnessed during David Moyes’ reign last term. Valencia and Young fired in balls from the wings, only for the Sunderland defenders to remove the danger with ease. Of 19 attempted crosses, the Red Devils only found the intended target on two occasions.
The arrival of Danny Welbeck and Adnan Januzaj served to change the momentum of the game, although the Red Devils still lacked the innovative edge that they so desperately needed. Having ended the last season as the most creative player in Europe’s top five leagues, Di Maria is perhaps the man most suited to fulfill the club’s attacking requirements.
The Argentine international will take on defenders, carrying the ball up the pitch, whilst making daring runs to utilise the passing ability of the Red Devils midfield players. The acquisition of a player capable of challenging defenders will also create the space in the middle for the likes of Mata and Rooney, as he draws his opposition out of position.
United appeared most dangerous on the counter against Sunderland, but this situation materialised very rarely. Only Welbeck and Wayne Rooney seemed capable of driving forward with the ball following Sunderland's failed advances. Di Maria’s pure pace would aid the transition from defence to attack, making van Gaal’s side significantly more threatening.
His contribution, for what eventually became Gareth Bale’s match winning goal in the Champions League final, epitomises his playing-style; quality, pace and creativity. In this deciding move, he burst down the right flank, before taking the ball past three Atletico Madrid defenders. Thibaut Courtois saved the resulting strike, but the ball fell kindly to Bale, who headed into an open net.
It goes without saying that the club lacks balance, a brief glance at Sunday's team sheet is enough to show this. Although, it must not be forgotten that van Gaal has a number of players to come back into the side, the likes of Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Ander Herrera will aid the side both at the back and in the final third.
The majority of United fans and Premier League viewers alike recognise the club’s need for a midfield anchor. Sunday’s Cleverley- Fletcher combination was simply abysmal and it's abundantly clear that neither player possesses the tactical awareness to successfully play this role.
|Team||Pos||Total No. Passes||Successful Final Third Passes||Chances Created||Dispossessed||Interception Won||Challenge Lost||Duel Lost||Mins|
|Tom Cleverley||Man Utd||MF||82||28||1||1||0||3||6||90|
|Darren Fletcher||Man Utd||MF||53||9||0||0||0||1||3||63|
Of those opposing the Di Maria deal, the main argument seems to arise from the notion that Ed Woodward and co. should be focusing their efforts on signing a more defensive-minded player; someone whose attributes make him capable of bringing a state of equilibrium to the side.
While I also recognise this factor, the acquisition of Di Maria cannot be undervalued. His reported price-tag is certainly up for debate, especially considering he is no longer required in the first-team at the Bernabeu, but his arrival will undoubtedly strengthen the first team.
He will not completely solve the central-midfield problem, however, he will aid the club in transitional moves and the creativity he will provide is second-to-none. Plus, depending on his positioning, he could also aid the Red Devils when it comes to defending without the ball.
In terms of where he fits into the starting line-up, this depends entirely on the formation Van Gaal decides to utilise.
His current 3-5-2 is creating more issues than it has solved and ultimately it’s a poor fit for the players’ at his disposal. The main issue with this system is the Dutchman’s use of Valencia and Young as full-backs, both of whom create significant problems for their side when called upon in defence.
It would be catastrophe to see Di Maria forced into wing-back role in this side, whilst having to cover the flank and contribute at the back, United would fail to benefit from the creative side of his game. What’s more, he does not have the defensive capabilities to occupy this position effectively.
Meanwhile, he would be wasted in the anchor role alongside Ander Herrera. Had Van Gaal chosen against signing the Spaniard, then perhaps Di Maria would have slotted into this two-man midfield system, alongside a more defensive minded player. However, considering the Herrera’s tendency to push forward, the side would continue to lack balance that's needed between the forwards and the defence.
Alternatively, he could play up-front, tasked with similar responsibilities of those given to Arjen Robben during the World Cup. Used as part of United’s front two, alongside either an Persie or Rooney, his pace could cause tremendous problems for even the most adept Premier League defences.
However, for Di Maria to be utilised to full effect, Van Gaal will have to adapt his system, with the 4-3-3 most suited to cater for the Argentine’s talents. The Dutchman has traditionally favoured this formation, therefore I see no reason to prevent him from implementing a switch.
As previously mentioned, Di Maria flourished on the left side of a midfield trio at Real Madrid last term. After Sami Khedira suffered a long-term injury, Ancelotti was forced to play the 26-year-old as a makeshift central midfielder, to the left of Alonso and Modric in a midfield three.
His most prominent performances for Benfica, Argentina and Madrid have all been central, despite the popular misconception that he plays best as a winger. Yes, he is able to play on both the left and right flanks, but as proven over the years, that is not where he excels the most.
He became arguably Ancelotti's most important player last term, therefore it's no surprise to see the Madrid faithful so devastated about his departure.
If utilised in a central role at Old Trafford, United will be able to rely on a player with the energy to challenge the opposition for the ball and chase the opposition’s midfield runners; something Darren Fletcher and Thomas Cleverley have proved consistently unable to do. Ultimately, he would reinvigorate the midfield zone.
Ander Herrera would be given a licence to roam, safe in the knowledge that Di Maria would provide the energy in the middle, while a defensive-minded midfielder (currently absent in the United roster) would offer adequate protection to the back four. This creativity and solidity would then prevent the front-three, particularly Wayne Rooney, from having to track back to gain possession.
The Argentine international would, of course, also to be suited to a wide role, and in this position he could certainly have a positive impact in the Premier League. Adding a player of his ability to the current front-three would surely solve the club’s lack of flair in the final third.
Switching to a 4-3-3 would obviously spell trouble for either van Persie or Rooney, however, it caters perfectly for the rest of the players at van Gaal’s disposal. Of course, it would create the opportunity for youngster Adnan Januzaj to cement a first team place; something I know number of United fans are eager to see.
Whilst Di Maria is not the answer to the current United side’s lack of balance, the club’s inability to create goal scoring opportunities is a factor that needs urgent attention.
Utilised in the correct system, the Argentine international is a ready-made solution to this problem.